Netflix’s newest feature, The Highwaymen, tells the story of retired Texas Ranger’s Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) as they take on a special assignment to track down and finally catch infamous crooks Bonnie (Emily Brobst) and Clyde (Edward Bossert).
Director John Lee Hancock made The Highwaymen to be as historically accurate as possible, a fact that left me stunned. The portrait Hancock paints of 1930’s America is an extremely dim one, with rundown buildings, tents, and broken-down cars all being used as housing. This is quite confronting at first as these scenes are quite stark in comparison to Australia, however if you look closely, modern day Australia has its own homelessness issues. On my last trip to Melbourne, there were homeless people on almost every corner.
As in real life, Bonnie and Clyde are literal celebrities – to the point where they are mobbed by crowds of people wanting to meet them. Let me clarify – these criminals are glorified celebrities. Sadly this is no different to Australia, Ned Kelly is a national icon, Chopper Reid had a movie and a TV series made about him, as did the Moran brothers (Underbelly) and taxpayers foot the bill for Senator Anning to fly across state lines to meet convicted violent criminals.
But this isn’t a celebration of Bonnie and Clyde, with no real homage being given to their notoriety, as they are very rarely in the film and we hardly see their faces. Fortunately, the focus is mainly on Frank Hamer and Maney Gault and their efforts to find the well-known criminals.
Costner as Hamer simply does not put a foot wrong here, reminding us why he’s won 2 Oscars and been nominated for numerous awards. His performance of the old timer lawman is flawless on all accounts, with his line delivery being particularly excellent. After being asked “Why should I trust you?” Hamer replies “Coz I said so”. It’s to the point, direct and he says it in such a commanding tone that you would do just that. Trust him.
Harrelson is also fantastic. Heading into retirement, Gault hadn’t made the same sound financial decisions as Hamer and is a victim of the Great Depression. Harrelson is able is reflect this by playing Gault as a weathered alcoholic. Harrelson also changes his physical actions to suit the role with Hamer stating he moves like a 75 year old. Clearly suffering the effects of the great depression is a bad thing but this aspect of Hamer’s life allows him to relate with others they meet on the road, aiding the ex-Texas Rangers on their final assignment.
William Sadler is also worthy of a mention as Henry Barrow, Clyde’s father. Barrow and Hamer’s conversation in Barrow’s workshop is fantastic viewing and both actors nail the scene. There is also a scene at a poker table with Harrelson’s Gault recounting how he first met Hamer. The backstory is both thrilling and horrifying.
The film isn’t fast paced, but it doesn’t need to be. The two lead characters on their journey is intriguing. Two ageing professionals on one last job, how will they fare? What will they find? I was genuinely interested in the answers.
Overall, The Highwaymen is great. John Lee Hancock does a valiant job in the directors’ chair, he even recreates the final confrontation between Hamer, Gault, Bonnie and Clyde in the same location where it happened in real life, with the scenes following that moment being very traumatic. Not because of how bloody and gory they are, but because they show how truly celebrated the killers were.
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates
Writer: John Fusco