The Highwaymen is the story for Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who brought Bonnie and Clyde down in the mid 1930’s. Costner and Harrelson shine. John Fusco’s story tells a unique drama which meshes well with John Lee Hancock’s action timing. Now in a limited theatrical run, The Highwaymen will premier on Netflix on March 29.
When you think of the names Bonnie and Clyde, your first inclination is to probably reference the 1967 Arthur Penn film featuring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
I don’t think you’d be wrong, but history being what it is, that isn’t the only source of information on them. Nope.
Do you want to know who finally brought them down?
It just so happens that writer John Fusco (Young Guns) and director John Lee Hancock (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side) might have another perspective on the whole idea of what Bonnie and Clyde truly represented to the southern part of the nation in the mid 1930s.
The United States was still deep in the Great Depression at the time of Bonnie and Clyde’s murder spree. Hoover and his G-Men were on the lookout, but couldn’t get close to them. The Highwaymen’s story opens in Texas where a jail break frees Bonnie and Clyde, putting the governor, “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) on the hook. So as to avoid more bad publicity, she gives permission for Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to track down Bonnie (Emily Brobst) and Clyde (Edward Brossert).
Hamer knows that he can’t track them down alone and he enlists the aid of his former partner, Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson.)
Fusco’s story is dark, accentuated with lively banter between Hamer and Gault as they go state to state hunting down their prey. The story is told from Hamer and Gault’s vantage point instead of Bonnie and Clyde’s. This gives us a chance to understand what it must’ve taken for Bonnie and Clyde to have been brought down.
In an interview with Mr. Hancock and Mr. Fusco, they mentioned that the historians couldn’t even agree on what was truth and what was fiction. And, the story reflects on that, paving its own way, much the same as the characters pave their own way.
Destiny informs the direction of the story and Mr. Hancock is no stranger to that type of story. His experience plays very smoothly into the methodical, detailed nature of the rough and tumble world that Mr. Fusco wrought. The characters are this film’s strongest attribute.
Yes, we’ve seen Kevin Costner in this type of role before, first as Eliot Ness in 1987’s The Untouchables and second as Lt. John Dunbar in Dances with Wolves as the explorer. Costner has a penchant for sniffing, detailing and getting his procedures right. His character here is a man of conviction who understands that he has to do a very bad thing. And, because Costner understands both sides, and what it means to be driven from one vantage point to another, he plays this as if his eyes are closed.
John Fusco really went to bat for the character on the screen: he is partly a loner, but he knows he needs help to get over this next hurdle. There’s something tearing the man apart.
Woody Harrelson plays Maney Gault. When we first meet Maney, we think he’s along for the ride; that’s Harrelson’s nature. But once the pace of the film picks up, Maney is right alongside Frank. They make for a solid paring, much the same as Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham did in David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water.
That’s the challenge with the film. In spite of the amazing performances, the level of detail that Fusco and Hancock brought to their story, we’ve seen this type of film before. What sets it apart from those other films are its showcase of a climax and some real heady dialogue scenes in the third act. Costner and Harrelson come across as an old, married couple. Not necessarily a bad thing – it makes them stronger as a team, something John Schwartzman captured beautifully. Schwartzman, who worked with Mr. Hancock on Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder understands drama. He also understands action having worked on Jurassic World, Armageddon and The Rock. Though the film is much more of a drama than it is an action film, the action is never too far outside of the drama’s peripheral vision.
The acting, the direction, the screenplay all come together nicely and the reality of the finale won’t sink in until after you’ve watched it a few times. The tried and true method doesn’t always work in the film’s favor, but the melting pot that is John Lee Hancock, John Fusco, Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson really puts The Highwaymen to the test.
Now in theaters and streaming on Netflix starting March 29, The Highwaymen is R.