Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Lawdogs.
Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson are THE HIGHWAYMEN, two old detectives past their prime, hired by the Texas Governor to join a manhunt – for Bonnie and Clyde. Ah, connection to popular culture! But this ain’t your granddaddy’s BONNIE AND CLYDE from 1967 with sexy Faye Dunaway and sexier Warren Beatty – we’re not gonna fall in love with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow here – we hardly even see them – this is a tribute to the lawdogs who brought them down.
Set in 1934, when wiretapping and two-way radios were brand new, Costner and Harrelson play two real life Texas Rangers who really did hunt the pair. Costner is Frank Hamer – the most celebrated Texas Ranger in history – brought out of retirement because he has a particular set of skills. Harrelson is longtime partner Maney Gault, who gives us a chilling description of Frank’s skills, as he relates a story of how he and Frank once brought down a Mexican gang by Frank NOT following lawful protocol and NOT giving them warning, just shooting to kill. That’s the outlaw skill the state wants from him.
Kathy Bates is the Texas Governor. The great John Carroll Lynch is chief of police. At the time Hamer and Gault were called in, Bonnie and Clyde had been fugitives for two years, elevating their bank robberies to a murder spree including cops. With the governor and chief of police at wits’ end, when giving their orders to Hamer and Gault, they both leave so much unsaid about stepping outside the law – wink-wink – the only thing separating them from mob bosses are their cheaper suits.
I’m the dandy highwayman you’re too scared to mention / I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention…
— Adam Ant, “Stand And Deliver”
I like the twist on the title – because highwaymen usually means outlaws; in this case, these off-the-book detectives are literally driving the blacktop of rural America, pursuing their prey with a single-minded purpose, illegally crossing state lines out of their jurisdiction, which made them… uh, outlaws.
Best scene in the movie is when Hamer meets Clyde’s father, Henry Barrow (William Sadler), and we realize it’s not just about the hunt – it’s about a man coming to terms with his particular set of skills. Barrow implores Hamer to go easy on his son, because Clyde “wasn’t born with a dark soul,” showing Hamer a picture of the boy, saying it was just “one turn on the trail” that damned him – when he stole a chicken as a boy, with the cops on his back ever since. And Hamer, well, it’s a good thing he’s Kevin Costner because only Kevin Costner could turn the empathy tables on Barrow and tell his own sob story of wanting to be a preacher, including the “one turn on the trail” that damned him to a life of hunting people for the law. And Costner is so damn good at turning our sympathies that Barrow ends up begging him to kill Clyde and himself and his wife! Man, Costner: what an actor! Anything he does in his older years is just magnificent. Where does he go in his head to be so compelling?! He just has to be onscreen with that face – just BE that face – and I start weeping with the gravitas and empathy – Kevin, shoot ME, shoot ME!!
Authentic old-world cinematography, set dressing, costuming, with a climax so explosive, and a final death parade so chilling, it will compel you to look up exactly how Bonnie and Clyde were actually taken down. Amazingly – it’s all true!
Da-diddley qua qua…