Friday, October 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Highwaymen (2019)

I watched nine films at last weekend's Lone Pine Film Festival, and I managed to squeeze in a tenth film at our hotel!

That movie was THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), a Netflix film which I streamed on my iPad spread over a couple of evenings. I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend it.

THE HIGHWAYMEN is the story of Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), Texas Rangers who are called out of retirement in the early '30s to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde and end their reign of terror. The gangsters are constantly on the move, with crimes including the murders of nine lawmen along with unarmed citizens, and local police and the FBI have failed to find and capture them.

Hamer and Gault set out with little more than a stack of maps (oh, and a massive amount of firepower in the back of their car). They work hunches and common sense, detecting patterns in the couple's travel, and gradually edge closer and closer to finding the killers and a fateful confrontation in May 1934.

The movie is on the long side at 132 minutes, but my interest in it never flagged. This was basically a police procedural, a film genre I love, and the period setting made it all the more interesting. It was fascinating watching the techniques used in the hunt as Hamer and Gault assessed clues and planned their next moves. Although, based on my limited reading, a couple incidents in the film were apparently inspired by rumor, for the most part the movie seems to have been factually accurate.

Costner is perhaps my favorite film star of the last few decades, and his taciturn lawman was wonderfully paired with Harrelson's wryly funny grizzled Ranger. They have excellent chemistry, making this also somewhat of a "buddy cop" film, albeit one that's played in a very low key. The chameleon-like Harrelson has become a wonderful character actor, to the extent it won't surprise me in the least if he wins an Oscar one of these days.

They're well supported by Kathy Bates in a smaller role as "Ma" Ferguson, the governor of Texas, who reluctantly approves the Rangers being called back to work as Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree spirals further and further out of control.

I've never had interest in seeing BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), but have read the opinion more than once that while that film is highly regarded by many, THE HIGHWAYMEN provides a much-needed antidote. It properly makes the men who hit the road to stop them the true heroes, while it deglamorizes Bonnie and Clyde and makes clear they were not admirable "Robin Hoods of the Depression," but stone cold killers who took many innocent lives. That latter fact makes the worship of the pair by many all the more stunning; I'd previously had no idea how many thousands attended their funerals. The mob desperate for souvenirs after their deaths was another disturbing bit of history.

The period setting is excellent, and unlike many recent films set in past eras (including director John Lee Hancock's own SAVING MR. BANKS), the movie avoids a phony "CGI" feel. The viewer never thinks about green screens or that anachronisms may be hiding in the corners of the frame.

This movie joins a couple other films from director Hancock which I've enjoyed, THE ROOKIE (2002) and THE BLIND SIDE (2009). It was filmed by John Schwartzman, with a musical score by Thomas Newman. The supporting cast also includes Kim Dickens, John Carroll Lynch, Thomas Mann, Dean Denton, Emily Brobst, Edward Bossert, and William Sadler.

Parental advisory: THE HIGHWAYMEN was rated R for a brief theatrical run. I honestly felt it was more of a PG-13 level. I had some trepidation about how violent it would be, but most of the time Bonnie and Clyde's crimes are seen only in the far distance or implied without overt violence. (Ironically the most disturbing sequence, in which Bonnie is seen close up, is one that I read is factually disputed.) The scene where Hamer, Gault, and fellow law enforcement officers kill Bonnie and Clyde is certainly violent, yet manages to communicate the volume of shooting and its consequences without being overly graphic. In all cases, the violence is telegraphed ahead of time and a viewer can avoid looking at the screen.

The trailer is here.


Blogger DKoren said...

I agree! I ended up loving this movie. Like you, I love Kevin Costner, and while I used to not like Woody Harrelson, he has turned into a fine actor and someone who I actually enjoy watching. I was really surprised how much I liked his character in this film, and he was a perfect combo with Costner. They played off each other really well. I love how Costner won't let him drive... nice payoff at the end. I liked how we never really see Bonnie or Clyde, but their presence is still felt.

I've never seen the Dunaway/Beatty movie either, never felt like it was something I wanted to see. But I loved this movie's look at them and how they were caught.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Always love comparing notes with you, Deb! We so often seem to enjoy the same aspects of various films. Harrelson has grown on me as well. He does a very good job here.

Hope some people who haven't seen this film will give it a try.

Best wishes,

7:21 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I now intend to be looking out for this film, thanks to your review, Laura! I too like Costner and have never understood why it became fashionable to dislike him.

I went to see "BONNIE AND CLYDE" on release in 1967, largely because of the heavy use on the soundtrack of the 1948 Flatt & Scruggs recording of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" - but that's just me LOL! Plus a good role for character actor Denver Pyle.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I saw this movie shortly after it came on Netflex and really liked it. I guess I had never thought about what went into tracking Bonnie and Clyde or who it was that eventually brought them down. I also was surprised at how idolized they were and the mentality of the "mob". One of the characters I got the biggest kick out of was "Ma". I thought Kathy Bates did an excellent portrayal of this woman who was so loving and friendly to the people but in private was quite another person!

7:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I hope when you see it you'll enjoy THE HIGHWAYMEN as much as Deb, Irene, and I did! I'd love to know your take. And that is fun background on your motivation to check out BONNIE AND CLYDE on release!!

Irene, I'm glad to know you enjoyed it too. It's interesting this film appealed to some of us who generally shy away from more violent types of movies. I found the law enforcement angle to the story so interesting. And Kathy Bates was quite charismatic in her part, wasn't she?
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on it!

Best wishes,

9:58 AM  

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