The Highwaymen - This Elegiac Movie Rocks
Dir: John Lee Hancock
Starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, John Carroll Lynch, Kathy Bates, Thomas Mann, William Sadler
There are two good reasons to see The Highwaymen – namely, Costner and Harrelson, here playing two old men, well past their prime and haunted by the actions of their youth, old cowboys who have traded in their horses for Henry Ford automobiles, hot on the trail of a new form of anti-heroic celebrity in the shape of Bonnie & Clyde.
John Lee Hancock’s film looks at the two former Texas Rangers, dragged out of retirement when a 1,000 man, J. Edgard Hoover-led taskforce was unable to stop the marauding, bank robbing escapades of the notorious 1930s outlaws, a couple who found themselves eulogised by many of the American public, and held up as heroes, in light of their attacks on the banking community in an age of Great financial Depression.
Hancock, a workmanlike director but generally an effective one, sees and draws distinct parallels with this period of financial insecurity and political upheaval and contemporary times, adding in the curious, corrosive nature of celebrity for a ripe looking at as well. His film’s observations are valid and skilfully handled for the most part, subtle where they could have been arch.
Instead, the director leaves the power of the movie in the hands of his two well-seasoned leading men. And in that department, you cannot ask for more. Costner revisits his righteous lawman of The Untouchable as if Elliot Ness was now a beaten down old warhorse, damaged by the things he has seen and done, but still morally convinced they were the right things to do. Harrelson, who has shared that life, is more morally adrift, deeply haunted by his prior actions, but drawn to support his friend and stop what he sees as more bloodshed. Both actors get their standalone moment, full of backstory and exposition. And both deliver them brilliantly. They are simply a joy to watch, in a dark and joyless film.
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