In 1967, Hollywood was shaken up by a number of bold films that would compete against each other at the Oscars. Among them was Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway about the titular robbers who became nationwide sensations before being brutally gunned down on May 23, 1934. The movie’s depiction of violence would become a game changer in the industry and cemented the two bank robbers in pop culture history.
Twenty years later, Hollywood would come out with one of my favorite movies in the form of Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, starring Kevin Costner as Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness in a quest to take down Al Capone. In the movie, Ness had a team of other “Untouchables” working alongside him, including Sean Connery and Andy Garcia. The former would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
I bring these two movies up because when you combine them, you get The Highwaymen, a crime drama that’s dialogue heavy but low on action or interest. The movie comes from John Lee Hancock, who you may remember for some other “based on a true story” movies including The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Founder. In this one, Hancock takes on the story of two Texas Rangers assigned with taking down Bonnie and Clyde.
Costner plays Frank Hamer, who reunites with his former partner Maney Gault, played by Woody Harrelson, to investigate and figure out where the two lovers are heading next. Along the way, they get help from J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI that aids them in their search. Costner and Harrelson have good chemistry in the movie, both playing aging detectives who both feel they may be in the “too old for this shit” age, but it doesn’t stop them from moving forward.
Anyone who goes in wanting to learn more about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow will be disappointed. The two lovers barely have any screen time in the 132 minute run time and the most screen time they have is towards the end shortly before they’re killed. The movie assumes that the viewer has done research on the lovers before going into the movie, whether it’s reading a book or seeing its predecessor. Anyone who goes into this blind will feel a sense of detachment from the pursuit. There’s a scene in the movie where Costner goes to an auto shop to talk to Clyde’s father, who insists that his son was a good kid until the police started hounding him over a stolen chicken. It’s hard to believe, not because it’s a father defending his own flesh and blood, but because the film doesn’t want to focus on Bonnie and Clyde outside of this chase.
The Highwaymen is a dialogue heavy movie. There’s plenty of drawn out conversations between Harrelson and Costner which, as I mentioned before, is mostly engaging and reveals a lot about their respective characters. Their interactions with other characters, however, seemed uninteresting to me only because the movie didn’t want to focus on anyone else besides its two leads. When they come across someone who knew Bonnie and Clyde as kids, he says that there was a connection, but it’s never felt.
In the end, The Highwaymen benefits from its two leads and attention to detail in the investigation, but that same attention to detail is what brings it down. If some more liberties were taken with the screenplay, as well as some more focus on who is being pursued, it may make for a more exciting movie. While I do recommend it, I would rather watch Bonnie and Clyde again for the titular story, or The Untouchables again if I was in the mood for Costner taking down a big shot criminal.