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Telling the real life story of two elderly Texan-rangers hired to hunt down the unstoppable Barrow gang, The Highwaymen positions itself as an argument against the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. That movie bought into the same romanticising adoration that the real life public had for a pair of murderers in love. Highwaymen keeps far away from the couple, only ever showing them from a distance as they slaughter innocent people in cold blood.
The camera more closely follows two old cops, played by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, who are forever grimacing at the fact that the world already sees them as the bad guys. They know the facts of the case, they know why they have to stop the gang, but they also know they are terminally uncool, ruthless, and representing the institution in an era where the institution had failed the public.
As an argument, Highwaymen is unfortunately not a very good one. The movie feels altogether too long, too slow, and too boring. We see Kevin Costner buy out an entire arsenal from a gun store, and yet it barely gets used in the end, with gun fights, car chases, and action sequences being far too brief and infrequent. What we get are weary anecdotes, as the two highwaymen tell of some violent tale from back in their Wild West days. Why aren't we ever shown these? "Seems you just have to kill some people to get famous," grumbles Harrelson's character, which is perhaps the movie's admission that its unremarkable when we don't see it killing anyone.
A big part of the problem is the choice of actors. We are supposed to believe that Costner and Harrelson, as they mumble their way through yet another hoary tale, are way past their prime. Kevin Costner may have a paunch, and a quick google tells me the actor is 64 years old, but his genes are just too good and he doesn't ever come off as decrepit enough to be a convincing old underdog. On top of that, he has no charisma whatsoever. I think of other movies about grumpy old men getting a call to action, such as Space Cowboys or every other Clint Eastwood film made in the last twenty years, and they all do a much better job of giving you a hero you can actually like. Woody Harrelson performs a bit better, but he needs someone to bounce off of, and Costner isn't up to the task of this dialogue and character heavy movie.
I appreciate what this film is trying to do in offering the opposite perspective to 80 years of anti-hero gangster movies, but it's a little too successful at arguing its main point: real life heroes may consist of pragmatic, unexciting people doing a good job, but that doesn't make them any more interesting to watch.
Reading this review feels like reading the infamous complain that Drive is not like The Fast and the Furious.
Could it be that this movie is a quite drama piece about how murdering people is wrong and getting famous by it is even worse? I even checked the marketing for it and it still sells it as exactly that, rather than anything action-packed.
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