The Highwaymen movie review: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson’s Netflix film is like a Bonnie & Clyde sequel no one asked for
The Highwaymen movie review: Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson’s Netflix gangster movie is an off-putting celebration of gun culture and right-wing conservatism.Updated: Apr 03, 2019 17:51 IST
Director - John Lee Hancock
Cast - Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Thomas Mann, Kathy Bates
Rating - 2/5
With Netflix’s The Highwaymen, director John Lee Hancock continues his odd streak of making films in complete disconnect with our times. Based on the infamous gangster couple Bonnie & Clyde, Hancock comes up with the decidedly problematic idea of telling the story from the perspective of the law enforcement officers who shot them down, in an off-putting celebration of gun culture and right-wing conservatism.
The Highwaymen plays almost like a fan-made sequel/spin-off to Arthur Penn’s classic Bonnie and Clyde - which is odd, considering how actively it challenges everything that the 1967 classic stands for.
While that film was seen as a watershed moment for Hollywood - it helped usher in a new wave of American counterculture cinema - the Highwaymen almost comes across as a conservative retort whose tagline could easily have been ‘Make America Great Again’.
Watch the Highwaymen trailer here
How dare murderous outlaws be deified in public, the film asks. How can two criminals who evaded the law for years, and went on a cross-country rampage which saw at least nine policemen die at their hands, be lauded as Robin Hood-type figures?
Bonnie and Clyde were a new kind of criminal; armed with state-of-the-art machine guns, a formidable Ford V-8, and a sense of liberation that seemed at odds with the Depression era. So when the Texas government announces that the manhunt would in part be conducted by former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer - a relic of the past by most accounts - there is a vocal protest by some of the force’s younger members.
Flashing shiny radios and toothy grins, they mock Frank (played by the only man who plays such characters these days, Kevin Costner) for his cowboy methods of conducting an investigation, which involves stakeouts, foot chases and as fetishised in one cringe-worthy scene, purchasing a truckload of guns.
Hancock and his writer, John Fusco, spend an uncomfortably long time on this scene, which begins with Costner strutting into a weapons shop, grunting authoritatively at the comically meek shop owner, and walking out minutes later with enough ammunition to supply a small army.
The guns in this scene - and later ones as well - are shot in a manner similar to how Quentin Tarantino shoots ladies’ feet, or how Michael Bay shoots their butts. They’re stylishly lit, both inside their squeaky clean glass cabinets and cradled in the hands of Costner.
This is in stark contrast to how Hancock portrays Bonnie and Clyde, whose faces are rarely, if ever, seen - at least until the film’s final, suitably bloody moments. They’re shown as comically evil psychopaths, which goes against the folk-hero persona that has been established over decades of storytelling.
But American culture has a history of putting outlaws on a pedestal - from the Wild West’s Jesse James and Billy the Kid, to John Dillinger and Al Capone during the Public Enemy era, to a certain politician now. Curiously, they’re all seen (and shown) as the voice of the common man.
And so, in an age when there’s daily discourse on police brutality and mass shootings, the Highwaymen decides that now is the best time to tell the story of a couple of policemen who emptied 130 rounds into two twenty-somethings, and then paraded their punctured bodies as a sign of victory.