April 9, 2019


Let's Go Die Tonight: The Highwaymen, Bonnie and Clyde, and different approaches to teenage killers in movies. (Emina Melonic, 4/05/19, Splice Today)

Cinephiles will be familiar with Arthur Penn's 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in the title roles. Here, Bonnie and Clyde have been placed permanently into an arena of American folklore. Their exploits were glorified and sexualized and they became American martyrs and symbols of anti-authoritarianism. In some instances, Penn took a comedic approach to the story, as well as many artistic liberties. For instance, in Penn's film, Hamer is captured, beaten, and humiliated by Bonnie and Clyde. None of that actually happened.

With The Highwaymen, Hancock is not discounting Penn's film. In fact, this earlier take on the story isn't even on Hancock's directorial radar. Rather, he takes a historical approach in order to shed light onto the men who went after the outlaws and what drove them to do that in the first place. It's not meant to be an antidote to Penn's film. Rather, we're becoming privy to the interior lives of Hamer and Gault in order to find the meaning in all of the evil and mayhem brought about by Bonnie and Clyde. Even the faces of the outlaws are purposely obscured throughout the entire film until the very end, revealing them as a couple of kids on a shooting spree.

It'd be too easy to categorize this film as a Western (since it deals with Texas Rangers) and yet it certainly has the elements of one--quiet men seeking justice, not following any kind of protocol, existing in a world of unspoken honor codes, and taking the law into their own hands. But reducing it to a Western genre would be a disservice, not only to the dazzling and expansive cinematography (which at times is reminiscent of the singular and beautiful work of NĂ©stor Almendros) as well as the profound performances of both Costner and Harrelson as the lead characters.

Costner portrays Hamer as a loner, serious about justice, with no qualms about killing any perpetrator. His focus is solely on the innocents who were killed and isn't interested in how the outlaws are supposed to be captured. Gault's also concerned with justice but he audibly asks existential questions along their journey, whereas Hamer's interiority comes through his body language and silence. When Wade McNabb, one of the members of the gang gives clues to Hamer and Gault of Bonnie and Clyde's whereabouts, the rangers find him dead shortly after. Gault wonders whether they could've protected him but Hamer isn't interested in this reflection. "He made his own choices," Hamer responds.

It's a terrific film in its own right--an old-fashioned celebration of the manly virtues--but the contrast with the earlier film demonstrates how completely we've rejected the ethos of the 60s-70s.

Posted by at April 9, 2019 6:36 PM