Movie Review

'The Highwaymen' won't go down in history like 'Bonnie & Clyde'

Arthur Penn's 1967 film 'Bonnie and Clyde' was unforgetable. The same can't be said of this Netflix movie about the lawmen who brought down the infamous bank-robbing couple

14 April 2019 - 00:00 By
Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner lacked chemistry in 'The Highwaymen'.
Woody Harrelson and Kevin Costner lacked chemistry in 'The Highwaymen'.
Image: Supplied

For cinephiles, the legend of Bonnie and Clyde is immortalised in Arthur Penn's 1967 pioneering film Bonnie and Clyde. It broke so many traditional rules of American cinematic language with its jump cuts and slow motion and celebration of its antihero protagonists.

Penn, while a little older than the generation of ground-breaking filmmakers who would follow him, understood that things in the US in the late '60s were changing dramatically against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the growing gulf between baby boomers and their children, and the rise of civil and women's rights.

Bonnie and Clyde was a movie set in a different time that resonated perfectly with the audience of the era of its making, and it remains a pivotal film that's cast a shadow over every similar film made since.

It perhaps seems unsurprising that in Trump-era America with its conservative hardliners and right-wing extremism comes The Highwaymen, John Lee Hancock's Netflix-produced tale of the story from the other side. Here the outlaws are shadows in the distance while the focus is squarely on the true story of two Texas rangers called out of retirement to end the couple's deadly spree and return conservative order.

WATCH | The trailer for 'The Highwaymen'

The lawmen, played with square-jawed determination and sad resignation by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, grimly follow and eventually bring down Bonnie and Clyde in a hail of bullets. While Penn's film lamented the death of its antiheroes, Hancock's film sees their death as the fitting conclusion to the drawn-out journey of its lawmaker heroes - another job completed for the good of the status quo.

As a director Hancock is adequate and safe, and though the film is suitably drenched in the greys and browns of the Great Depression era, there's little emotional engagement with its protagonists or their journey. This isn't helped by a lack of chemistry between Harrelson and Costner. Ultimately, what could have been an insightful and engaging version of the other side of the story turns into merely a watchable, too long and not very memorable TV movie.

If you're going to tackle Bonnie and Clyde on screen then you have to do so with a knowledge and recognition of Penn's film. To simply assert that the film we all know and love relied too heavily on style and a tweaking of history for its own devices isn't enough in any era, let alone the crazy, perplexing moment we find ourselves in.

• 'The Highwaymen' is available on Netflix.

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