There have been two movies and a handful of spinoffs of Bonnie & Clyde, none better than the iconic 1967 original, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. 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 plot of this Netflix film begins 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.” Outraged, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) gives Simmons full discretion to terminate Bonnie and Clyde ... with extreme prejudice.
Simmons’ solution is impractical but resourceful: He asks former Texas Ranger 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. Soon, Hamer’s former compadre, Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), joins him. (Incidentally, with far less screen time, Gault is better developed as a character than Hamer.)
In focusing on the pursuit, director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) offers a perspective that we heretofore have not seen. However, the film is a slog, obsessed with minutiae, lacking urgency over the course of 132 minutes. 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 had done them justice.