“Blind Side” director John Lee Hancock’s authentic, Depression Era, road-trip, manhunt thriller “The Highwaymen” (*** OUT OF ****), co-starring Oscar winning actor Kevin Costner and Oscar nominated Woody Harrelson, serves as the flipside of the classic Warner Brothers’ gangster epic “Bonnie & Clyde” (1967), with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.

Told from the perspective of the two seasoned manhunters who tracked down the bloodthirsty young Texas couple, “The Highwaymen” confines their quarry Bonnie & Clyde to the periphery of the mayhem, out-of-the-lime light, depicting them in either far-off shots or close-ups, so audiences cannot sympathize with these trigger-happy desperados who had gunned down policemen without a qualm.

“Young Guns” scenarist John Fusco has provided far more history about this pugnacious pair in this Netflix movie than its celebrated theatrical predecessor.  Often, when we see Bonnie, we are given only glimpses of her feet encased in ruby red shoes.  She walks with a limp that she acquired after Clyde drove off a bridge under construction when he missed a detour.  This mishap injured Bonnie so severely that she resorted to laudanum, a concoction of opium and alcohol, to relieve the agony, until she died in May 1934 in a hail of gunfire from two former Texas Rangers–Frank Hamer and Manny Gault–along with a posse in Bienville Parish, Louisiana.

Throughout this chronicle of their pursuit, Hamer and Gault were amazed by the relative lack of height of the two criminals in comparison to the media attention that transformed them into titanic celebrities during what was termed ‘the Public Enemy era’ between 1931 and 1934. In the final scene, Hancock gives us a lingering glance of the two felons, looking like two clean-scrubbed, fashionably attired cherubs, with an arsenal of firearms at their fingertips.

As depicted in “The Highwaymen,” the beginning of the end for the notorious duo started with a prison breakout that Bonnie & Clyde orchestrated to free accomplices from the Texas-based Eastham Prison Farm in 1934.  Warden Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch of “Shutter Island”) of the Texas Department of Corrections got the green light from Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates of “Primary Colors”) to hire Hamer to stop the crime spree of these two twentysomething renegades.

Privately, Ferguson had nothing but contempt for the Texas Rangers, recently disbanded under a cloud of corruption, and warned her own duly appointed constabulary that they would face repercussions if the two former Rangers nabbed Bonnie & Clyde.  Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner of “Dances with Wolves”) comes out of retirement to accept Simmons’ offer despite the misgivings of his wife.  Hamer chooses an old friend and former Texas Ranger Benjamin Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson of “Natural Born Killers”) to accompany him.  Neither Hamer nor Gault are in shape to chase themselves around the block.

Hamer hasn’t fired a gun in so long that he cannot obliterate bottles with bullets. While well-dressed lawmen from the state of Texas as well as the FBI rely on the latest crime-fighting equipment that modern technology has equipped them with to pursue Bonnie & Clyde, Hamer counts on his frontier savvy about human nature and his knowledge of the couple’s whereabouts to ferret them out.

Comparatively, this evokes memories of the turn-of-the-century John Wayne western “Big Jake” (1971) where Wayne tracked down the dastards who kidnapped his grandson, while law enforcement handicapped by modern technology could do little despite their apparent advantages over him.  Ultimately, Hamer and Gault put everybody, including the FBI, to shame.  Essentially, our heroes qualify as the underdogs that triumph over incredible odds to thwart the Barrow gang.

Mind you, “The Highwaymen” is certainly not the most exciting manhunt melodrama. Indeed, at times the going is mighty slow because Hamer and Gault painstakingly gather clues and develop leads based on their bloodhound instincts.  Although most of the action involves Hamer and Gault, they don’t have any encounters with Bonnie & Clyde until the finale.  The best scenes that highlights what our heroes pitted against occurs when they tail Bonnie & Clyde out of a town and then lose them in the middle of nowhere.  Clyde careens off the highway into a barren field and swerves in circles around Hamer and Gault.

Clyde churns up so much dust that he loses the two Texas Rangers in a blinding storm.  Eventually, after they learn that the felons are driving off for ‘greener pastures,’ Hamer decides to pursue them into the state of Louisana where there are no warrants for them.  During the manhunt, Gault agonizes about his ability to shoot a woman.  Later, they learn Bonnie Parker is as just as lethal and cold-bloodied as Clyde.  This is a far cry from the vintage Warner Brothers movie.

Hamer follows a lead involving one of Clyde’s accomplices who lives in Louisiana.  He cuts a deal with the father of one of Clyde’s cronies that concludes with the inevitable ambush of the twosome.  The posse catch Bonnie & Clyde trying to help the father who approaches them about roadside assistance.  Reportedly, in real life, the posse laid down so many volleys of gunfire that the barrage deafened them.

Clocking in at two hours and twelve minutes, “The Highwaymen” aims for the older demographic that loved “Unforgiven.”  Nevertheless, it ranks far above anything that Costner has made in many moons.  Costner and Harrelson lend their considerable gravitas to Hancock’s authentic looking film.  The $49-million production does a commendable job of recreating the utter despair and destitution suffered by too many people during the Great Depression.

Some critics and historians have accused Hamer of overstepping his authority after he shadowed Bonnie & Clyde into Louisiana, and he could have taken them alive.  Hancock and Fusco show that Hamer was prepared to do whatever was necessary to kill the couple.  Despite its impressive adherence to history, “The Highwaymen” will always lay in the shadow of the Oscar-winning Warner Brothers’ classic, but it does provide greater insight into Bonnie & Clyde. To read more great movie reviews check out this link:

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