Whilst not heading towards full revisionism, The Highwaymen is a low-beat retelling of the last days of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the two cops-of-advancing-years who finally bring them to the ultimate justice.
Kevin Costner is Frank Hamer, Woody Harrelson is Maney Gault and they barrel across the badlands, cooped up, unwashed in their tiny car, trying to work out how and where in the vast wilderness their prey will next appear. The chase will take as long as the chase takes, as America civilises around them. And if that sounds like The Searchers then the film helps you out by homaging one of its most famous shots as a character stands in complete silhouette, looking out at the emptiness, framed by the door.
The Highwaymen is an odd film in many ways. It determinedly wants to present the real impact of Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes so they, are decidedly unglamorous. However, clearly that might mean that we, the audience, think that killing them in a hail of bullets is a bit unfair. So some of the legend remains in place. Bonnie is shown killing a defenceless policeman on the ground; the truth is generally accepted that this infamous incident did not occur.
There are also some incongruities in setting. Some shots are external and beautifully crafted; but then we have people running across obvious sound stages whilst sprinkler rains falls on them.
But, the key reason to like it is the double act whose names are above the title. Costner and Harrelson work so well together. Costner reminding you that despite all this detractors, he can do this stuff effortlessly; Harrelson just adding to his run of quality performances that he now seems to deliver whatever the film.
The Highwaymen is not great. But it’s decent. And there’s more than enough to keep you going. It probably shouldn’t be two hours long but it is and, unlike some, that’s far from an ordeal. It’s almost the perfect film for home viewing: challenging enough, entertaining enough, amusing enough, dramatic enough, but with a story you already know that’s not going to tax you too hard.