Clever cinematography pulls you in but it’s the script that grabs and holds you. Very well written, ‘The Highwaymen’ resuscitates and retells us the story of Bonnie and Clyde from a different angle. From the point of view of the law. More specifically, this film is about the two friends and retired Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer (Costner) and Maney Gault (Harrelson), who brought Bonnie and Clyde down when even Hoover’s FBI had all but given up. Unlike the 1967 Arthur Penn film, ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ we see here why it was essential these criminals be stopped rather than praised for who they were. A stylized tactic used by the filmmakers to keep their evil, rather than their appeal, at the forefront was to keep the image of the pair virtually unseen until the moment of their demise. You see them, just not very clearly and certainly not as they were almost idealized in ’67.
The film ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ admired by both the writer, John Fusco (Hidalgo, Young Guns) and director John Lee Hancock (The Founder, The Blindside) of ‘The Highwaymen,’ did exactly what the public in 1934 did but in a very different way. We see the flash but then, it’s so subtle that you, this new audience, can focus more clearly and see what Bonnie and Clyde actually were… monsters. They made them look glamorous, like heroes, larger than life and something to cherish. After all, they were stealing from the rich and giving to the poor… right? Not exactly. In fact, not at all. What sets the two films apart most is that the idolization of who these people were, is not done.
It’s made clear that these two lived lavishly, virtually as celebrities, but it also exposes that had taken advantage of everyone along the way, used them, and that they were immoral and corrupt. They wanted more of everything and weren’t afraid to kill to get it. Nice people! And this version of events shows you that they, seems Bonnie, in particular, were cold to the core and needed to be stopped. They don’t get bloody because to tell the story it doesn’t need to. However, the filmmakers show you and tell you all you need to know to be instantly rooting for the men who take up the case. When Frank learns of how many officers have been ‘dropped,’ that’s all he needed to hear before he was willing to strap on his gun again. More like several guns, as is depicted in a scene where he goes shopping and makes a store owners entire year. Guns, maps and each other were all they had and all they needed. One particular moment with a map is used as a little wink to the audience to make us widen our eyes and linger for just a moment, wondering, ‘How did they get anywhere before they had their phones to guide them?!’
Cinematographer John Schwartzman, who worked with Hancock on ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ makes the landscape an essential character in the film as it paints a vivid picture of the nothingness of life at the time. It shows us why people may have become so desperate and certainly why someone would have admired these soulless individuals for striking back at ‘the man.’ People had nothing else, so they cheered them on. In my interview with him, John Fusco let me in on something he learned in his research. Bonnie always wanted to be a Broadway star. She was stealing for herself and Clyde was doing the same thing. It’s a shame that people ever spent one moment believing this couple were anything but rubbish.
Anyway, the chemistry, the writing, the cinematography, the acting, the score… everything comes together to make this old story seem refreshing. Fusco’s take on period pieces is always rich and layered. Though his scripts, while he shows you one thing, you’re learning so much more. ‘The Highwaymen’ is no different in this respect. He has written a damn good story about old cops helping the new bring down the bad guys. He leaves nothing out, even taking time to point out that bringing down the bad girl was an issue for some at the time. Mostly because ‘she was just a little bitty thing.’ I want you to see this. I want you to believe me. I’ll be honest, it’s a tad slow at times, but it doesn’t drag one bit, nor does it dissatisfy.
*After watching, stay for more information at the end.
‘The Highwaymen’ comes to Netflix on March 29, 2019.
See it now in select theatres.