The Highwaymen – A Movie Review

Camera Girl rarely requests a movie so when she does, I try to meet her halfway.  She told me she saw an interview with Kevin Costner on one of her girlie morning shows and he was talking about a Netflix movie he was in called “The Highwaymen.”  We both liked Costner in “Open Range,” so I was willing to give this a shot.  I’m glad I did.

Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play two retired Texas Rangers (actually the Rangers had been disbanded by a woman Texas governor named Ma Ferguson (played by Kathy Bates) who are called out of retirement out of desperation because Bonnie and Clyde were on a murder and robbery spree that even the FBI couldn’t stop.  Costner and Harrelson are (respectively) Frank Hamer and Maney Gault.  Although most of the time Maney calls Frank, Pancho.  The two old lawmen discover that they’ve lost more than a step and after testing out their current accuracy with pistols they decide to invest heavily in machine guns to try and even up the fight with the Barrow gang.

Every few days the Barrows murder a few more police and always in a brutal and sadistic way.  When one particular shooting is recorded to have involved a thousand rounds of ammunition Maney questions if he and Pancho are even sane for contemplating a confrontation with these trigger-happy killers.  And in fact, the FBI is also dead set against the old pair getting involved in the manhunt once the two rangers leave Texas soil.  They taunt them for their old-fashioned methods and flaunt their access to wire-tapping information and coordinated roadblocks across the Mid-West.

But what the old men do possess is an understanding of how these desperados think and operate.  Hamer anticipates the ways that the gang avoids the police and why they will end up down in Louisiana where they will face their reckoning.

And of course, since this is the story of Bonnie and Clyde, we see a torrent of lead, riddle the gangsters’ car and bodies with bullets.  It is a sobering sight.

During the manhunt we learn a little about Maney and Frank and how they developed the reputation as mankillers.  We see that Gault is a man filled with remorse for some of the excesses that were forced on him in his days shooting it out with bandits.  And we find out that Hamer is the ruthless opponent he is because of his personal knowledge of how dangerous and unhesitating their opponents really are.

Although the movie shows just how popular Bonnie and Clyde were for the young and poor people in the Mid-West it in no way portrays them as victims.  Bonnie is especially shown to take a sadistic delight in terrifying her victims at the moment of death.  The one really touching scene is when Hamer comes face to face with Clyde Barrow’s father.  You see the opposite points of view on what caused Clyde’s fate but he learns that the man has come to terms with the action that he knows Hamer must perform, kill his son.  He needs it done to put an end to his family’s agony.

Costner and Harrelson are an odd couple and Costner is the straight man to Harrelson’s slightly eccentric character.  They do a good and generally understated job of showing us the story of how Bonnie and Clyde were finally stopped.

It’s a good crime drama and well worth the time spent.  Well done, Camera Girl, well done.

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 2

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

Kevin Costner was originally going to be Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.  But he and the director/screenwriter disagreed on how much of the movie was supposed to center on Wyatt Earp and his background.  He left the production and decided to make the movie “Wyatt Earp” instead.

Wyatt Earp is a sort of biography of Earp.  It starts with Wyatt as a teenager trying to run away to fight in the Civil War, shows him falling in love, marrying and losing his young wife to typhus.  Giving in to a drunken despair he commits some capital crimes and has to flee his old life never to return.  He went out to the frontier and worked first as a buffalo skinner and then as a lawman.  These chapters effectively chronicled the background and events that formed the man that we recognize in the various versions of the legend.  And it shows his links to other characters of legend like Holliday and Bat Masterson and his brother Ed.  And we get the particulars of all of the Earp brothers and their wives.  And what does Wyatt Earp end up as?  He’s a man hardened to the realities of life in the West.  And someone who trusts his family and very few others.  This sets up the events that transpire in Tombstone and afterward.

Costner plays the part with his typical understated style.  The supporting cast is interesting and probably the best of them is Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday.  The production is done in high style with excellent cinematography and a full musical score.  The direction and scene selection seemed well thought out and deliberate and didn’t produce any confusion over plot elements which was important considering the length of years and progression of different characters covered in the film.  It is a very long film coming in at three hours.  And the deliberate pace and varying importance of the scenes probably was too much for some viewers who really came to see the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  In fact the film was neither a financial or critical success.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it.  I think it comes closer to the actual facts of the story than Tombstone.  And I think despite his unflamboyant acting manner Costner does a much better job of portraying Wyatt Earp as he actually was.  Where I would fault the effort is being so unreservedly faithful to the facts.  Neither The Gunfight at the OK Corral or the subsequent vendetta appear as grandiose and mythic as they do in Tombstone and other descriptions.

It’s a shame when a critic complains about an historical account being too accurate.  It almost seems like nostalgia for mendacity.  But that’s an occupational hazard when dealing with the Old West.  In fact, there’s Holy Writ that covers it. In the western epic “The Man Wo Shot Liberty Vanlence,” one of the characters who I believe is a newspaperman says, and I paraphrase, When the legend becomes the facts, print the legend.

In Part 3 I’ll tie these two films together and ramble on about all thing cinematically Earpish.

 

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 3