Infamous outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have long held the public's fascination. Hollywood has told their story many times with a glamorous spin. The Highwaymen takes a decidedly different viewpoint. Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed as remorseless killers with no regard for their victims. A legendary Texas Ranger and his partner were brought out of retirement to stop the carnage by any means necessary. The Highwaymen has a good cast and dusty depiction of the depression era southwest. But fails to entertain with its painstakingly slow methodology.
In 1934 Texas, Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) and several accomplices escape from a prison work gang; with help from his Tommy gun-toting sweetheart (Emily Brobst). They kill a prison guard in cold blood. While newspapers and the public fawns, Governor "Ma" Ferguson (Kathy Bates) has had enough violence from Bonnie and Clyde. Though she disbanded the Texas Rangers, Ma Ferguson authorizes the hiring of retired Captain Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner). Revered by law enforcement, Frank Hamer was uncompromising and lethal. Killing over fifty men in one particularly brutal engagement.
Hamer's first order of business was to match the firepower of Bonnie and Clyde. Armed to the teeth, he then enlists his old partner, Benjamin "Maney" Gault (Woody Harrelson). Gault followed Hamer's orders, but suffered tremendous guilt from their take no prisoners tactics. The pair track Bonnie and Clyde as their crime spree snuffs more innocent lives. As over a thousand police officers and FBI agents fumble in their search, Hamer knows that an outlaw always returns home. Bonnie and Clyde have finally met their match.
The Highwaymen is directed by John Lee Hancock. He worked with Kevin Costner on A Perfect World and is also known for The Blind Side and The Founder. Hancock's films are strong character pieces with meticulous details. He stays true to form with The Highwaymen. Hamer and Gault are as tough as chewed leather, old hounds back on the scent. They marvel at the cutting edge technology of wiretaps and two way radios. Their journeys through poverty stricken, hopeless towns illuminate the popularity of Bonnie and Clyde. Desperate people saw them as new age Robin Hoods, stealing from the cruel banks that were foreclosing on their homes. Hancock never shows Bonnie's pretty face or stylish hair, just her lame foot dragging as she executes her victims. Hancock's character work and settings are the best parts of the film.
The Highwaymen loses narrative steam quickly. Hamer and Gault spend the majority of the film searching. Hancock gets too granular in their detective work. I can appreciate the focus, but it becomes boring. The Highwaymen is dreadfully slow for the majority of its runtime. This shouldn't be the case on the hunt for such ruthless criminals. Hancock and screenwriter John Fusco needed to energize the investigation. It's disappointing that the law enforcement aspect is so banal. This is a strange failure when you consider the time sensitivity and resources put into the operation. The Highwaymen should be a bullet-ridden, gripping film. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are somewhat wasted here.
The Highwaymen is currently in limited theatrical release. It will premiere globally on Netflix streaming service this Friday, the 29th. It looks good, but needed more excitement. Bonnie and Clyde are mythologized as celebrity criminals. The Texas Rangers that found them deserve a more engaging film.