The story of Bonnie and Clyde is famous and often tied to a period in American history. It has been told over and over again in film, television, books, and more. What The Highwaymen aimed to do was to tell the story of Bonnie and Clyde through the eyes of the retired Texas Rangers who ended up killing them and putting an end to the deadliest killing and crime spree the United States had seen at the time. Starring Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner, the film follows the two of them as they are coaxed out of retirement and then on their search across state lines to finally capture the two criminals.
While the premise and the goal of the film are admirable and sound relatively interesting, the result of the film is not. The movie felt very long and drawn out due to the pacing. While it seeks to tell the story of how they ended up killing Bonnie and Clyde, the better part of the film is spent watching the two driving in a car, argue about Woody’s character, Maney Gault having to use the bathroom, and seemingly endless comments about their age and inability to do what they’re doing. The day to day procedural nature of the way the story is depicted leaves much to be desired. Probably about ninety percent of the film doesn’t see any action other than brief chases, a few slightly intense conversations, and a small skirmish in a public restroom. It is only in the final 15 minutes of this two hour, and twelve-minute film that is exciting.
Woody Harrelson is the only source of humor in the film, and if it weren’t for him, I don’t think the movie would be half as good. Kevin Costner gives a decent performance as Frank Hamer but it is nowhere near his best, and at points, it was difficult to understand what he was saying with the accent and grumbling voice. His performance lacks the excitement and spirit that would make the film much more engaging. Perhaps it was played that way because it is based on a true story and the real Frank Hamer was as Costner depicted. If that is the case, I feel like Costner may have been miscast and someone like Beau Bridges or even Sam Elliot could have been better choices for the character. Kathy Bates plays Governor Ma Ferguson, and while her performance is terrific, she isn’t in the film enough, and it feels like a significant waste of her talents. The other actors in the film aren’t given much to do, and Thomas Mann’s character seems to serve one purpose really, and again, wastes the talent of someone who can do so much more (i.e., Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Them That Follow).
The film is beautifully shot and uses great long and wide shots of Texas and surrounding areas, it only adds to the length of an already long movie. With a cut in the runtime, it may be a much more engaging film for the audience. It is evident that both the writer, John Fusco, and the director, John Lee Hancock are very passionate about the film and the topic at least giving us a sense that the film is a labor of love. Because of that, the heroes of the film feel pushed upon us and too heavy-handed in making sure the audience knows they’re on the “right” side.
Despite the passion and dedication of the writer and director, the long runtime and slow pacing make The Highwaymen a film that will have difficulty finding an audience. The Highwaymen lacks excitement and intrigue and instead feels more like a biased drawn-out history lesson that feels tired and old.