“THE HIGHWAYMEN” had its world premiere as this month’s SXSW film festival ahead of its March 29th release on Netflix. Directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, this story chronicles the journey of two Texas Rangers that come out of retirement to bring down the infamous and elusive Bonnie and Clyde.
This film was a bit of a mixed bag for me. There were large sections of it that I thoroughly enjoyed. While on the other hand, there were some issues that I felt hindered the already slow pace. Hindrances that at times restricted some of the potential intensity that the subject-matter generated. The performances were a bright spot without question. Both Costner and Harrelson felt comfortable and capable in these roles as you would expect. Their chemistry captured the supposed history between their characters, and I enjoyed watching the growth in their arcs through the progression of the narrative.
I felt both were able to heighten the emotional beats of their characters, but I don’t feel they were stretched to their potential. This is Costner and Harrelson, two high-caliber actors yet with a lack of motivational depth in the writing they felt more like Costner and Harrelson than they did Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Maney Gault. There were moments of silent imagery throughout the film and these scenes were able to capture flashes of what was driving these two men forward. But there were also some that didn’t and felt unneeded. The dialogue didn’t completely build the history between these men. As a viewer I didn’t feel I learned what I needed to in a timely fashion to connect with these men. Thus, instead of their paths in the story feeling unique to their own, they felt more conventional.
I was hoping for two things out of this film. A deep dive on these Rangers that explored their motivations and the skill-set that made them the men they were. I also had hopes for an interesting game of cat-and-mouse as they attempted to stop Bonnie and Clyde from their killing spree. Unfortunately, despite strong flashes of both I don’t feel either was developed as deeply as they could have been to hit the intended dramatic intensity. This real-life sequence of events was incredible, and the success of the Rangers was remarkable. But the writing didn’t infuse the story-line with the layers it could have to deliver that. All of which made this feel like a capable biopic, one that was entertaining but also one that played out with a familiar time-period biopic formula.
The first and final acts were very well-crafted. When the film starts we’re introduced to Bonnie and Clyde in a more symbolic way. Faces are not revealed and there is no dialogue. We see them in a different light from the rest of the characters to see their grace and elegance which did an effective job of romanticizing them. Making them seem like a larger than life opponent for these retired Rangers which built curiosity. We meet our two retired men in their current places in life and from there the journey begins. The final-act was uneasy and tense as it comes down to the climactic finale. I was up on the edge of my seat compelled to see how this film would portray these events and I must say it was all beautifully constructed.
The main issue was the progression of the second-act and what felt like missed opportunities to build more of an emotional connection to the characters. Also missing was the feeling of a true villain for them to capture. I think this film could have added a couple more scenes with Bonnie and Clyde to weave between the tireless tracking from Haman and Gault. This would have infused the story with strong splashes of energy. It would have complemented the piecing together of evidence to capture how they brought them down. At times this movie seemed too reliant on people already being well versed with Bonnie and Clyde and for that aspect I think it could potentially miss grabbing people who are more unknown to the actual events.
With the progression of the story it felt like the Rangers for a bulk of the film were making no progress then suddenly things fall into place. I felt mildly convenient but given this is based on true events I would have to say it was simply not structured to connect to a mass audience. But instead will cater more to those in the know of this subject. However as it was, there is still more than enough to grab on to. It’s a well-crafted movie on many levels. The grittiness and efforts of the Rangers was captured just not enough to overshadow some flaws in the case-solving side of the story-line. Which makes this a good movie with a lot of things going for it. But not the great, gripping time-period saga it could have been.
The production design from top-to-bottom was excellent. The settings and landscapes were immersive to pull the viewer into the world of the era. There were a variety of camera techniques from director John Lee Hancock that gave the film a strong artistic appeal. The lighting and selection of angles created a very moody and ominous atmosphere when needed. I just wished the script would have tightened up the dialogue to explore the characters more. I think had Bonnie and Clyde gotten a slightly stronger presence in the film and had the progression of them being caught feel more naturally developed this would have been a top-notch biopic. But as it was, it was still capable with Costner and Harrelson carrying it on their shoulders.