Release Date: March 29, 2019 (Netflix)
Runtime: 132 mins
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Kevin Costner
John Carroll Lynch
The issue of historical accuracy in films based on real-life people and events has been and will continue to be discussed at length. It is something filmmakers should definitely pay attention to. It can be frustrating when a film completely misrepresents a real-life person and makes them seem much better or worse than they actually were.
“The Highwaymen” seems to exist solely to correct one such misrepresentation.
In 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde,” real-life Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, is made to look like an incompetent buffoon who was just out to take revenge on the infamous duo for embarrassing him. This depiction is objectively misleading and could even be called outright fabrication and defamation of character.
Hamer is the main character in “The Highwaymen,” and he is presented closer to how he really was.
Given “Bonnie and Clyde” is credited with ushering in a new era of American filmmaking and has been cited as an influence by filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, it may not have been the wisest choice for “The Highwaymen” to challenge it as brazenly as it does. When it comes down to it, “Bonnie and Clyde” has stood as a cinematic landmark for over 50 years. “The Highwaymen” will be lucky if anyone remembers it in a couple of months.
That “The Highwaymen” even attempted to top the massively iconic final shootout is laughable. Yes, its depiction of that fateful event may technically be more true to what actually happened on that Louisiana country road on May 23, 1934—but it is not presented with any of the same technical mastery and packs in almost none of the emotion of the original film.
Even disregarding this, “The Highwaymen” just is not a very interesting story. Its two lead characters seem to take on every tired archetype of law enforcement officials in movies.
Legendary crime fighters are called out of retirement by one last case they just cannot turn down no matter how hard they try. They are mocked as old-fashioned by the younger investigators but prove their older methods yield much better results. There are even multiple, “I’m too old for this crap” jokes thrown in. If it was not for the large screen presence of stars Kevin Costner—”Dances with Wolves,” “Field of Dreams”—and Woody Harrelson—”True Detective,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”—there would be absolutely nothing to set these two apart from almost any other run-of-the-mill detective characters. Taking away the previously established context, “The Highwaymen” is just a substandard police drama.
To my surprise, “The Highwaymen” actually features a couple of good action scenes. The offroad car chase with sand flying everywhere was reminiscent of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Although not nearly as well done as in that movie, it still made for a pretty fun scene, even if it was over within a minute or so. There really is not too much else I can say. The music is fine; the cinematography is fine; the screenplay is fine.
“The Highwaymen” is a competently made movie. That it has the gall to act superior to a masterfully made one is what makes it so annoying. It is the kind of movie you decide to watch on a boring weekend because it looks semi-interesting and you cannot think of anything better to do. You will probably watch it all the way through and think, “that was pretty good,” but nothing will really stick with you. If you want the true story of Bonnie and Clyde, go read a book or watch a documentary. If you want the entertaining and memorable story of Bonnie and Clyde, go watch the 1967 classic.
Drew Eckhart is a sophomore history and pre-law major from Edmond, OK. He has loved movies for as long as he can remember but thinks his passion really began when he watched “The Dark Knight” for the first time in theaters. His favorite type of movie blends comedy and drama seamlessly, and he loves great action films. In Drew’s free time, he enjoys reading and playing video games, as well as watching TV and movies. His favorite TV show is “BoJack Horseman” and his favorite movie is “Whiplash.”