The Highwaymen **

It’s a fun conceit to tell the story of the guys who took down Bonnie & Clyde, but it’s a good 20 minutes too long and drags most of the way. 

Is it worth $10? No 

There have been two movies and a handful of spinoffs of “Bonnie & Clyde,” none better than the iconic Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty 1967 original. The reason for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s continued popularity is obvious: They were young, attractive outlaws, and their killing spree was like an action movie playing out in real life. They were so rebellious and cool, people forgot to be scared of them. “The Highwaymen” tells the story of how they were captured, and boy does it take its time in doing so.

The film starts in January 1934, as Bonnie (Emily Brobst) and Clyde (Edward Bossert) break four men out of prison. This prompts Texas Department of Corrections Chief Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) to note that Bonnie and Clyde have been on the run for more than two years, have killed numerous police officers, and “are more adored than movie stars,” he says. Outraged, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) gives Simmons full discretion to hunt down and kill Bonnie and Clyde using whatever means necessary.   

Simmons’ solution is impractical, but resourceful: He asks a former Texas Ranger named Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to find the infamous outlaws. At this point Hamer is retired, happily married to Gladys (Kim Dickens), and done with public service. Yet he barely pretends to hesitate before accepting the job. “I knew what you were when I married you,” Gladys says, oddly admitting to loving someone whose core desire is to hunt and kill other people. Soon, Hamer’s former compadre Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) joins him, and what’s shocking is that somehow, someway, and with notably less screen time, Gault is a better developed character than Hamer.   

In focusing on the pursuit, there’s a new perspective in “The Highwaymen” that we heretofore have not seen. However, it moves in a slog, obsessed with minutiae and lacking urgency over the course of 132 minutes. For example, toward the end Hamer and Gault search a house in which Bonnie and Clyde may be hiding. Guns drawn, they tiptoe through each door, noting clues like lipstick on cigarettes, as they work their way up to the master bedroom. The payoff? They realize Bonnie and Clyde are both short in height. Director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) shouldn’t waste five minutes of screen time on something this pointless.

What’s more, it’s not well made. The opening prison breakout is poorly shot and edited. We’re outside, with prisoners on yard detail. Cut to Bonnie, at an unknown outdoor location, with gun in hand. She fires. When she does the prisoners begin their escape by shooting the guards and running into the woods. Lo and behold, they come out the other side of the woods to Bonnie and Clyde’s car, hop in and drive off. An aerial/helicopter shot establishing the geography would’ve done wonders for comprehending the scene, but we don’t get that. We’re left feeling lost and scattered, unsure of what exactly we’ve just seen.

“The Highwaymen” is based on the real men who brought down Bonnie and Clyde, and they were certainly courageous in bringing the outlaws to justice. If only this movie did them justice.  

Did you know?  
Robert Redford and Paul Newman were originally set to play Hamer and Gault, but the project fell apart after Newman’s death in 2008.

“The Highwaymen” is in limited release in theaters and available everywhere via Netflix streaming on 3/29.

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