In 1967’s Oscar winning Bonnie and Clyde, the notorious ’30s-era outlaws were perceived by many to be folk heroes of a different sort, and in the hands of director Arthur Penn and stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway it was not only a terrific movie, but wildly successful. However, one aspect of it — the portrayal of the Texas Ranger icon Frank Hamer, who tracked them down with his partner Maney Gault — the movie got it all wrong. As played by Denver Pyle, Hamer came off as a bit of a buffoon. A new movie debuting today on Netflix aims to correct the record, and it does so in style.
With Kevin Costner as Hamer and Woody Harrelson as Gault, The Highwaymen is a movie written by John Fusco and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) that is less about Bonnie and Clyde and more about the journey of these two Rangers, pulled out of retirement to enter into what would amount to a more than 100-day journey to finally track down and stop the bank-robbing pair, thought responsible for at least 13 killings in their crime spree. Using old-school techniques that eluded the FBI and others, there can be no question Hamer and Gault were the real heroes here even against the reality that Bonnie and Clyde became media stars of their day and thousands attended their funerals after the infamous shootout that ended their lives.
In this telling of the story we see the flip side as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are almost invisible throughout. The idea here is to focus on the pursuers, not the pursued. It is a fascinating piece of Texas and American history and the perfect bookend a half-century later to Penn’s movie.
As presented here, Hamer and Gault are perfectly matched — one as quiet as the other is not — and working together for the first time Costner and Harrelson have great chemistry. This project started 15 years ago and has long been in development; Hancock was attached even when it was meant to be the third starring vehicle for Robert Redford and Paul Newman, who had tried for years to find a follow-up to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting and thought this could be it. Newman died before it could ever come to fruition, and it languished until the current incarnation.
In retrospect this is the perfect casting. Costner captures the steely determination of Hamer and his knack for putting himself in the heads of those he’s hunting. In other words, to catch a madman, you need a madman, or at least someone who is a dog with a bone. Gault was more the conscience of the pair, a man who shied from violence but joined his longtime friend and colleague in one last job. The film focuses on their journey, methods, mission, friendship and character. Certainly like the pair they are hunting, they could be controversial in their job and often found themselves at odds with others in government. It was Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) of the Texas prison system who suggested Hamer was the man for this job that no one else could get done, and who convinced a reluctant — and grandstanding — Texas Gov. Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to bring him in. It was the right decision even if in the end they didn’t get the credit they quite deserved (and that includes from Hollywood). Until now.
The acting is uniformly fine here and Costner and Harrelson fit these roles like a glove. Bates is spirited and perfect casting as Ferguson, and Kim Dickens does nicely in her scenes as Hamer’s wife. Hancock has given the story real scope and the feel of the period, making this a movie that is ideal to see on a big screen — but this being a Netflix movie, most will be watching on a screen at home. Any way you can catch it, it is well worth the time.
The producer is Casey Silver, who stuck with it all those years and finally got it made. I am glad he did. Check out my video review above with scenes from the film.
Do you plan to see The Highwaymen? Let us know what you think.
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