The pairing of Kevin Costner with Woody Harrelson immediately piqued my interest and had me tuning into the premiere of THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), Netflix’ latest original streaming movie release.
Costner and Harrelson play Texas Rangers who are called out of retirement to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde in this period piece drama based on a true story.
It’s 1934, and Texas governor Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) is fed up with the elusive Bonnie and Clyde. She accepts the advice of prison warden Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) to hire former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to do what the current slew of FBI agents are unable to do: track down and kill Bonnie and Clyde. Hamer agrees to take the job, and helping him is his former associate Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson).
To do the job, Hamer and Gault have to dust off the cobwebs of retirement and deal with being a lot older, but once they feel they are up to speed, they’re hot on the trail of the infamous outlaws.
I was really into seeing THE HIGHWAYMEN because of the pairing of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, but surprisingly the two actors share little chemistry onscreen together.
Costner is very low-key as Frank Hamer, and as such, he just never really came to life for me. I never quite believed he was the infamous Texas Ranger who had killed so many people in the line of duty.
Woody Harrelson fares better as Maney Gault, and Harrelson’s scenes and lines of dialogue were among my favorite in the movie. But his character plays second fiddle to Costner’s and the story never really becomes about him.
And Kathy Bates, John Carroll Lynch, and Kim Dickens all have limited impact with very small roles.
There’s also not a whole lot that’s cinematic about this one. It plays like a mediocre TV movie of old, and watching it at home on Netflix only added to this substandard feel. Director John Lee Hancock even keeps the R-rated violence somehow tame.
Hancock’s previous film THE FOUNDER (2016), a bio pic on McDonald’s controversial “founder” Ray Kroc, which starred Michael Keaton in the lead role, was a much better movie than THE HIGHWAYMEN. In THE FOUNDER, Hancock pushed all the right buttons, including capturing the look and feel of the 1950s. Here in THE HIGHWAYMEN his take on the 1930s is less impressive.
Hancock also directed the critically acclaimed THE BLIND SIDE (2009).
The screenplay by John Fusco focuses completely on Hamer and Gault and strangely spends hardly no time at all on Bonnie and Clyde. In fact, the infamous pair are barely even seen here. It’s a decision that doesn’t really help the story, because even though Hamer and Gault continually talk about how monstrous Bonnie and Clyde are, and even though we see the pair commit murder, because so little time is spent on them we never really feel their menace.
As a result, Hamer’s and Gault’s quest is largely one-sided. It’s hard to join them in their passion when we never see the object of their manhunt.
The dialogue was average, with most of the good lines all going to Woody Harrelson.
I also was looking forward to watching these two characters deal with their advanced years as they hunted down the younger Bonnie and Clyde, but the script doesn’t play up this angle very effectively either.
All in all, I found THE HIGHWAYMEN to be lethargic and lackluster. It never really ignited any sparks, and the two leads surprisingly never really connected.
At the end of the day, THE HIGHWAYMEN was more roadblock than highway.