By Robert Jonathan
Content consumers wary of any film or TV series branded as a Netflix original given the general track record may understandably hesitate about adding The Highwaymen to their watch list. The Highwaymen chronicles the events after the government hires legendary retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) in 1934 to essentially do an OO7 on violent celebrity gangsters/folk heroes Bonnie and Clyde. The no-nonsense Hamer brings another Ranger colleague out of retirement for the road trip pursuit.
According to the Netflix description, “Two steely former Texas Rangers are tasked with tracking and killing infamous criminals Bonnie and Clyde in this crime drama based on real events.”
It was an SJW-drenched Guardian review of the Costner film that drew one’s attention to it at all. Apparently, the movie exposes toxic masculinity rather than correcting the Hollywood-distorted historical record.
The Guardian article (and others of that ilk) also constitutes yet another PC attempt to apply 2019 standards to conduct from 80 or so years ago, which admittedly in this film includes a police brutality sequence.
According to the Guardian‘s politically correct template, the film presents “an old-fashioned notion of masculinity rooted in insecurity and smallness…Watching Costner try in vain to scale a wooden fence, a viewer may see outmoded mores of manhood fading before their very eyes.”
This analysis is apparently not meant as a parody.
It turns out that The Highwaymen road, while a little slow in parts, is well worth your viewing time regardless of your political views, if any.
This is especially meaningful if merely watching it creates angst for typically phony, left-wing professional movie critics.
Direction, writing, acting, production values, editing, and cinematography are all first rate. The film even includes an old-timey car chase.
In fact, it’s worth watching a second time to gain the full benefit of its subtleties.
The Highwaymen currently has a 77 percent audience favorability on Rotten Tomatoes, but just a 56 percent approval based on reviews.
PJ Media thinks it knows why:
“[R]eaction to the film is almost as interesting as the film itself.
“On both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, the movie clocks in at mid-to-high 50s scores, generally signifying a mediocre effort.
“But a closer look reveals something different: Reviewers who actually reviewed the movie are mostly positive. Reviewers who reviewed their perception of the movie’s politics account for more than half the negative reviews.”
PC Police Dislike this Cops and Robbers Film
As one Guardian commenter joked about the news outlet’s reviewer, “He’s woke AF. He managed to shoehorn a MAGA reference in there however I’m disappointed to see no mention of how an oppressive patriarchy, a gender pay gap and sexual inequality drove Bonnie to a life of crime.”
In an article behind a paywall, the Washington Post apparently claims that the real Hamer championed Jim Crow, apparently overlooking the key fact that the Ranger fought against the Klan in West Texas.
With an additional compilation of politics-obsessed criticism of The Highwaymen, which similarly included a reference to “outmoded mores of manhood,” Lileks.comquipped the following:
“In any case, the outmoded mores on display are this: being the guy who leaves behind a comfy life to eliminate some bandits who are killing anyone who crosses them, and does so without bitching about his own problems. If the new more of manhood is to sit on Twitter all day and bitch incessantly about the world and occasionally write books about Vampire movies, you might be surprised to find that the idea is not universally celebrated.”
Added the Washington Free Beacon:
“As James Lileks noted… the revulsion some critics feel toward Hancock’s film because it dares subvert a Boomer cinematic classic by showing killers to be killers is faintly embarrassing…We can’t be surprised when the images of beautiful killers resonate more than the grumpy old lawmen who ended their reign of terror. As much as America has changed over the last eighty-plus years, from the Depression to desegregation to détente to decline, some fads—like glamorizing murderous nutjobs—just never go out of style.”
You may recall that the 1967 Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway immortalized the couple’s famous crime spree.
The Bonnie and Clyde characters only make cameos in the Netflix version, up to their famous confrontation with Hamer and his posse (filmed on the actual road where it occurred in real life).
Moreover, the marketplace seems to be speaking:
In its first month on the streaming network, 40 million-plus households watched The Highwaymen, according to Deadline Hollywood.
With credentials issued by the Texas Highway Department for a “special assignment,” the opus shows how Hamer, using his expert tracking skills and cop’s intuition, ended the careers of Bonnie and Clyde with extreme prejudice, to borrow the term from Apocalypse Now.
Fellow Rangers-retiree Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson doing his usual Woody Harrelson thing) and some local cops assist in the final showdown.
PJ Media explains that The Highwaymen “flies in the face of Hollywood liberal convention and restores the reputation of an American hero that Hollywood lore slandered as a vengeful, murdering buffoon way back in 1968.”
Added the New York Post‘s Decider column: “Highwaymen director [John Lee] Hancock has said the film was intended to redeem Frank Hamer, who was played for laughs by Denver Pyle in the 1967 film, to the dismay of the Ranger’s surviving family.”
Hamer’s widow sued Warner Brothers for defamation, over the way the Penn film ridiculed her husband, forcing the studio to enter into a 1971 out-of-court settlement with her.
Cinematographer John Schwartzman does an outstanding job presenting Depression-era Americana. As the Beacon notes: “The Highwaymen is a journey into our past and a reminder of how much things have changed. Poverty—real poverty, with hunger and dirt and fall-down-shacks-for-houses—is everywhere, shanties filled with roving migrants looking to earn pennies a day springing up by the sides of roads.”
John Fusco’s script is expertly crafted. The spare dialogue, in part because of the Hamer character’s stoic nature, conveys an amazing amount of subtext in very few words. In fact, there are only about two or three scenes in the entire film that contain extensive exposition. Writing concisely obviously requires more creativity than the reverse.
As you would expect, Costner is solidly convincing and commanding as the world-weary Frank Hamer, including either gaining weight or wearing a fake spare tire for the part.
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The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde
A couple of other notes: Apart from the above-mentioned scene where the Hamer character can’t navigate a fence during a foot chase, another funny sequence occurs when the revelation of federal wiretap technology dumbfounds Harrelson’s character.
Also, the film fortunately eventually abandons the tired trope of the free-wheeling Rangers rivalry with smug, more buttoned-up law officers. The Gault/Harrelson character comes across as kind of a cliché, however.
In what is the primitive origins of click bait, the movie also shows how the publicity-averse Hamer purposely avoided the media spotlight despite the available opportunities. And the scene where Hamer stocks up on weaponry at a gun store is sure to “trigger” the SJWs. The Gault character also uses a clever ruse to beta-test whether a local sheriff is corrupt or not.
Viewers will notice that Kim Dickens from Fear the Walking Dead has a small role as Hamer’s wife. Plus, Fargo movie actor John Carroll Lynch, who appeared in one episode of The Walking Dead, plays Marshall Lee Simmons, the head of the Texas department of corrections who assigns Hamer the task of hunting down Bonnie and Clyde.
Blokes Aren’t Woke
It is the Simmons character in The Highwaymen who convinces skeptical, self-serving Texas Gov. Ferguson (Kathy Bates) — who had disbanded the Texas Rangers — that authorities need Hamer to put a stop to the on-the-run “cold-blooded killers who are more adored than movie stars.” Simmons later tells Hamer that he should do whatever is necessary to put the Barrow gang “out of business.”
During the end credits, The Highwaymen presents real-life images of the principals, including showing the bullet-riddle Barrow vehicle, and the massive turnout for the funerals of Bonnie and Clyde.
— David Forsmark (@dforsmark) April 9, 2019
Conservative, Liberal, or Just Americana?
Classifying this film as conservative is kind of arbitrary too, but perhaps understandable in the current hyper-partisan environment. Liberals try to politicize everything, but it’s usually best to keep politics out of entertainment. Have we reached a place where any movie that features a couple of dudes, even older ones, unapologetically carrying out a mission that they consider their duty is automatically considered “conservative”? Moreover, does every movie have to be put through the SJW lens rather than standing or failing on its own merits?
Concluded PJ Media:
“Everyone in this film seems to have cared deeply about restoring Frank Hamer to his proper place in American history. Like Hamer himself, they have accomplished this mission deliberately, efficiently—and when it calls for it, brutally—and to the great benefit of us all.”
A registered independent, Robert Jonathan is a longtime writer/editor for viral news aggregation websites with a focus on politics and other trending topics. He earned a Juris Doctorate degree from “a law school the basketball teams can be proud of.”
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