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Movie Review

Frank Hamer and Maney Gault are, frankly, way past their sell-by dates. They're both gray-and-grizzled former Texas Rangers who were partners and pretty famous back in the days when there were Texas Rangers. But that was a long time ago as far as current Texas Governor Ma Ferguson is concerned.

I mean, it's 1934! Ma has put a new police force into place, and she doesn't even want to think about that antiquated style of have-gun-will-travel justice.

Problem is, well, there are two of 'em: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

This young hoodlum pair has been out robbing any place with a little cash. They drive souped-up cars, mow people down with top-shelf weaponry and consistently evade the thousand-man force trying to track them down. Why, even the vaunted FBI has been useless. And for some incomprehensible reason, the public seems to love their well-dressed, big-spending, bullet-spewing ways. I mean, women are going out of their way to dress and look like the fashionably cute Bonnie Parker.

It's ridiculous!

But when this tommy gun-wielding pair kills a few more cops, fronts a prison break to free a couple of their thug pals and still slips by dozens of roadblocks, well, that's the last straw. The papers and the public look to Ma and demand answers. So she reluctantly caves and gives the thumbs-up to call Hamer and Gault out of retirement.

Frank Hamer's wife isn't keen on the idea, but she knows the man she married. She knows he's been bored out of his mind in retirement. And Maney Gault? Though he's haunted by some killings in the past, he's also a shell of his former self—completely lost without a badge and a gun.

So the two rusty wranglers reunite in the front seat of Frank's Ford and bicker and growl their way back into the rhythms of an old-school manhunt. They may not have the FBI's wiretaps or far-reaching man power. But they've got something better: They've got grit, they've got long-seasoned bloodhound skills, and they've still got keen eyes in their creased old faces. They remember how to ride the road, play a hunch and pull a trigger.

And sometimes, that's all you need.

Positive Elements

After Hamer and Gault get back together, it's easy to see both men are still plagued by memories of men they killed earlier in their careers. Especially Gault. And though Hamer rarely uses his pack-a-day rasp to voice those bottled-up feelings, you can see they're eating at him, too.

That said, Gault suggests how these bouts of conscience and the ongoing torment of those past actions are what separate their deadly choices from those of the killers they're hunting.

Both men desperately want to stop the wholesale killing going on, and they put their lives on the line to do so. And when they're forced into situations in which they, too, must take lives to do their jobs, those choices are never taken lightly.

Illustrating that point, at the end of the film Hamer is offered a thousand dollars by a reporter to describe the bloody events of a shootout. Hamer sneers and walks away. Gault turns to the man and says, "Shame on you."

Spiritual Content

Characters use phrases such as "Lord knows " and "Lord help me." When Gault's grandson learns that Gault has killed people in his job, the boy says, "You might go to Hell for it."

Hamer has a talk with Clyde Barrow's father in which they discuss Clyde's "dark soul." The elder Barrow insists that his son was driven to darkness. Then Hamer relays a personal story of his own, proclaiming that we all choose for good or evil. He also states that he was intending to go to seminary as a young man.

Sexual Content

Hamer and his wife kiss. A woman at a bar wears a low-cut, cleavage-baring dress.

Violent Content

At the beginning of the movie, someone recounts how Bonnie and Clyde killed a man for nothing more than $4 and a tank of gas. And we hear other stories of the men and women they have mowed down with thoughtless disregard. Gault also tells a story about how he accidentally killed an innocent 15-year-old in the course of attacking a large group of drunken killers.

We see several instances of Bonnie and Clyde's heartless murders, too, often at point-blank range. People are riddled with machine gun and shotgun fire. In one case, they shoot two motorcycle cops, after which Bonnie walks up and blasts one writhing man squarely in the face. The camera first watches that blood-spewing viciousness from a distance; later, we see the bloodily pulped face—featuring torn flesh and bone—and the subsequent blood pool from an overhead camera angle.

We also know how this tale ends, so we see the criminal couple riddled with hundreds of rounds while sitting in their car. When Hamer leans in to check the criminals, the camera lingers on gruesome wounds in the victims' faces and torsos. Later, as the dead couple and their car are towed through a local town, a large crowd of Bonnie and Clyde fans cry out in anguish and rush the car, clawing and pulling at the bloody corpses inside.

Hamer (as well as the camera) looks at black-and-white photos of dead, bloody victims.

At one point Hamer gets angry and punches a man in the face, slamming him into the back of a vehicle and driving him to the ground. Gault gets jumped in a bathroom, then slams one man around and shoves his face in a toilet while holding a gun on two others. We hear that Hamer still has 16 bullets in his body from past gun battles.

Crude or Profane Language

Five s-words and five uses of "a--" and "b--ch" are joined by 10 uses each of "h---" and "d--n." God's name is combined with "d--n" seven times. We hear a couple exclamations of "dear lord" and "Judas priest."

Drug and Alcohol Content

This is a time when cigarettes were king, so nearly everyone is puffing at some point. In fact, some of Hamer and Gault's tracking is directly connected to who smokes what. They also make note of Bonnie's alcohol habits—she discards booze bottles and bottles of Laudanum (an opium tincture painkiller).

Gault has a hip flask that he sips from regularly. We see him and others knocking back shots at a bar.

Other Negative Elements

Gault needs to relieve himself repeatedly. The camera watches from behind as he does so on bushes and behind objects. While using a urinal, he's approached by thugs and ends up comically urinating on them, too.

In spite of Bonnie and Clyde's murderous reputation, large groups of people idolize them as superstars. In fact, some authentic black-and-white photos in the credits show thousands and thousands of mourners attending the separate funerals of the pair.

Conclusion

Many people only know the story of the murderous Bonnie and Clyde from the 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. That story romanticized and glamourized its machine gun-toting protagonist couple into young, fight-the-man types, heroes whose screen personas reflected the rebellious attitude of the era. In fact, the film became known in part for helping to usher in an age of—as Time magazine put it—"New Cinema Violence."

That Hollywood reimagining also featured a bumbling, ham-fisted cop named Hamer who eventually stumbled his way into slaughtering the antiheroes. But The Highwaymen takes a different tack, telling its story from that former Texas Ranger's perspective.

This other-side-of-the-Tommy-gun version of the historical tale is still plenty violent, but its gore is seen with a purposely disapproving eye. No flash or romance here. When we see and hear a shotgun roar, we're also shown the terrible results—humanity senselessly reduced to pools of blood, torn flesh and bone.

In that sense, this is a much more slowly paced and thoughtful film than the '60s "classic." As heroes Hamer and Gault gather clues, track their killers, smoke and talk, they're almost theological in their quiet musings on the violence, corruption and folly of our fallen world.

How does one turn that corner to a darkened soul? they wonder. Where is the line between killing and justice? How does a reasoned person get swept up in idolizing something foul and evil?

Cinematic contemplations here give viewers something to chew on. But it's not always a pleasant mouthful. Nor is it intended for younger viewers.

"My children shouldn't see this. They're not ready for it," Highwaymen star Kevin Costner said in an IMDb interview. And Costner is unquestionably correct. Whether seen on the big screen or streamed on a small screen at home, this Netflix-distributed pic deserves as much thought before seeing it, as it might potentially inspire after.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Kevin Costner and Frank Hamer; Woody Harrelson as Maney Gault; Kim Dickens as Gladys Hamer; Emily Brobst as Bonnie Parker; Edward Bossert as Clyde Barrow; Kathy Bates as Governor Ma Ferguson; John Carroll Lynch as Lee Simmons

Director

John Lee Hancock ( )

Distributor

Netflix

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

March 22, 2019

On Video

March 29, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

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