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Lost City

Film Review: The Highwaymen

3 April 19 words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy

Initially scheduled to feature Paul Newman and Robert Redford, The Highwaymen has been stuck in production hell for well over a decade. Having been resuscitated by Netflix, and with a new acting line-up of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, the story of the men tasked with killing Bonnie and Clyde is finally available to watch... 

Director: John Lee Hancock

Starring: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates

Running time: 132 mins

Most people have probably heard of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow - the notorious gangster couple who became celebrity criminals during the Great Depression after committing a series of violent robberies and murders. Part of the infamous Barrow Gang, they were so called anti-establishment heroes, taking from “The Man” to give back to the people. But of course, what the Press reported at the time was a glamorised and highly subjective take on the truth. The romantic idea of a fashionable and charming outlaw couple is far more appealing than recognising the savage and merciless slayings of police officers and civilians who haplessly found themselves in the way of the gang and were dealt with accordingly.  Unlike Arthur Penn’s 1967 contribution, this film’s focus is not on Bonnie and Clyde but on the two men who were given the task of hunting them down, doing whatever it took to stop the bloody killing spree the pair were merrily conducting across the middle of the U.S.

Retired Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) are placed on the Bonnie and Clyde case after the failure of the local state police forces and the FBI to run the murderers to ground. Both men are complicated characters struggling to find peace after years of killing people for the law. While Gault is more vocal about the guilt that he carries with him, Hamer seems hardened to a point of no return. There is a sense that they have been given the task that nobody wants to be left with. Who would want to be responsible for the deaths of people who the public idolise? As they set off on a subverted version of the classic road trip (not as the fugitives but as the lawmen), we get a glimpse into the other side of the story and what it takes both morally and conscientiously to get the job done.

It’s the type of drama that was popular in the 90’s, but which doesn’t really get made much anymore.

For most of the film Bonnie and Clyde are blurred outlines or shadows in the distance, haunting them as a future threat that cannot be avoided. This does raise some interesting questions about the idea of two men being unleashed as a last resort to act as judge, jury and executioner, especially in light of the police brutality and violence making the headlines at the moment.

The Highwaymen was originally conceived with leading actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford in mind, but when Newman passed away in 2008 the film was effectively shelved. It’s taken over ten years to bring the project back to life with a new cast line-up and streaming giant Netflix taking over the distribution rights (Netflix do seem to be in the habit of rescuing previously abandoned productions). Watching this film, there is a nostalgic quality to it (although this could be down to Costner – it’s nice to see him back in the game after the Man of Steel/Superman vs. Batman debacle). It’s the type of drama that was popular in the 90’s, but which doesn’t really get made much anymore. There’s action, but most of the plot is slow moving and contemplative - exploring the notion of how heavy the toll can be in taking another person’s life, whether you’re outside the law or whether you are the law.  And somehow it’s stuck with me after the credits rolled.  I just wonder how much of it is the truth or just further mythology.  

Did you know? Woody Harrelson was originally attached to the project in 2013, when he was set to star alongside Liam Neeson. However, Neeson eventually dropped out, and was replaced by Kevin Costner

The Highwaymen is available on Netflix now

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