The story of America’s most infamous criminals, Bonnie and Clyde, told from the perspective of the law enforcement, specifically the men responsible for finally bringing an end to the outlaws’ killing spree. Retired Texas ranger Frank Hamer (Costner) is hired as a last resort to track and bring down the dangerous duo. Upon hearing the news of Hamer’s rehire, old friend and work partner Maney Gault (Harrelson) aids him on the country wide manhunt. The two men ageing, battered and way beyond their prime, will have to rely on their wits and experience to achieve what nobody else has managed to.
Harrelson is the perfect accompaniment to Costner’s darker, more gloomy tone. As the film progresses, frustration takes over as they find themselves bested by the criminals time and time again. Costner starts to develop a no bullshit approach to his line of work, whilst Harrelson provides the comedic timbre that the film desperately needed. A coupling you feel could have worked perfectly when the two men were at the height of their respective careers, but nevertheless, it’s their partnership that provokes the positive response the film’s looking for.
This movie is strictly told from one side, and it wants to remind you of that every chance it gets. Bonnie and Clyde feature as mere background roles, resorting to very limited screen time, and when they do appear they’re usually obstructed, out of focus or hidden. While potentially a clever technique to keep full focus on the film’s real heroes, it manages to lose any connection with the antagonists. Slight tweaks with the historical accuracies behind the real case and this could feel like any post-prohibition, gangster noir thriller, without having the need to mention Bonnie and Clyde at all. When we are met with a full profile it comes in their final ‘bloody’ moments.
The Highwaymen really struggles to become as compelling as the story it’s trying to tell. All the parts are there, the end result however just feels groggy and manages to underachieve in more areas than it gets right. Which is a real shame when this is a movie you wanted to succeed from the get-go. What it does well, is bring the real heroes into the limelight, allowing the ‘modern day’ Robin Hoods to take a back seat. It’s this change of storytelling that adds a refreshing point of view that has somewhat disappeared from the history books, thanks to the infamy of Bonnie and Clyde’s more documented lifestyle.
It tells a story that deserves to be told, but not in a way it deserves to be seen. The pacing suffers throughout a high portion of the movie, with Coster and Harrelson dragging the film practically on their own to its finish. A strong beginning, a lengthy and often tiring middle and a brief, but satisfying end. If this film made smarter choices with how it decided to tell the story, we’d be looking at a more polished, and overall, more well rounded movie. Costner and Harrelson needed more to work with.