“The Highwaymen” delivers a mostly satisfying slow-burn

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The stories of the legendary criminals, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, have long captured the public’s attention and intrigue. The tales of their exploits and the romanticization of their rampage can be found everywhere in books, films and pop culture. 

Netflix’s “The Highwaymen” tries to tell a different side of the story of Bonnie and Clyde, namely, the story of their capture and the men who brought them down. 

The criminal pair spent years robbing banks, gas stations, stores and more along their interstate route. After Bonnie and Clyde staged a prison break in Texas where high ranking security officers were killed, an intense amount of pressure was placed on the Texas state government to hunt them down.

Bonnie and Clyde had successfully evaded the law for years. Modern technology, help from the FBI, and thousands of officers and roadblocks didn’t seem to be working. In exasperation, the Texas law enforcement decided to call up a few old Texas Rangers (an organization that had been long disbanded at the time) and place them on the case to catch these crooks. 

Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) came out of retirement, somewhat reluctantly, and decided that they would find these killers their own way- through some good old-fashioned tracking. 

After figuring out the pattern of the Barrow gang, Hamer and Gault formed a posse. They made good on their promise to deliver Texas justice to the pair on a little rural road near Gibsland, Louisiana when the group ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde in 1934. 

This story has been told countless times and has more often than not been romanticized. “The Highwaymen” does no such thing. This film leaves behind the rush and the romance of the story that everyone thought they knew and provides a much more sober and measured take. 

“The Highwaymen,” at its roots, is a serious buddy-cop movie that was inspired by real-life events. In this respect, the film greatly succeeds in what it set out to accomplish. Costner and Harrelson work magnificently together, with Harrelson standing out through his charming and layered performance that shows the weight that enforcing the law places on the shoulders of good men, as well as the severe trauma that is often incurred in carrying out their duties. 

The best aspects of this film’s script, aside from its solid development of both Hamer and Gault, are the questions it poses regarding the law, those who execute it, and the complexities that often arise in so doing. 

In addition to the great leads of this film, the production design by Michael Corenblith is perfect in its simplicity. His work transports viewers right into the Hoovervilles and poverty of the 1930s, and along with solid principle photography work, it provides all an interesting look into the Dallas of the Great Depression which serves as the unsung atmosphere for much of the film. 

The direction of the film and its cinematography are both perfectly competent and perfectly unremarkable. “The Highwaymen” does not attempt to remake the cinematic wheel with its serviceable direction, but instead sticks with the tried-and-true methods often employed in less alluring Netflix originals. 

Aside from the interesting source material for its script, two solid leads that are a pleasure to watch, great production design, and a score that works well with the rest of the film, “The Highwaymen” has little to offer. 

This film has two, arguably three, interesting characters that, though they are all well-written and acted, make the nearly two-hour and fifteen-minute runtime feel occasionally exhausting. The script for this film is incredibly tight and its dialogue rather sparse. This frees Costner and Harrelson to make the most in the exploration of their characters, but it also restricts the scope of this film that already has trouble justifying its runtime.  

The lack of well-developed characters, outside of Hamer and Gault, in addition to the fact that “The Highwaymen” tells a story with a well-known ending, can create a bit of a dry viewing experience, especially if buddy-cop movies aren’t your thing. 

Despite all this, anyone who likes Costner and Harrelson has a liking for historical dramas with a western theme, or enjoys a well-acted and decently-directed buddy-cop flick will have a good time with “The Highwaymen.”

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