SXSW Film Review: Netflix’s The Highwaymen is the companion to Bonnie & Clyde with the tone of True Detective

From the director of The Blind Side, John Lee Hancock, comes a new telling of the Bonnie and Clyde story; this time told from the perspective of the men who took the criminal pair down. Set for release in on Netflix later this month, the film stars Woody Harrelson, Kevin Costner and Kathy Bates – surely three of the biggest stars to have graced a Netflix original film – alongside other great actors like Kim Dickens of Fear of the Walking Dead, William Sadler and John Carroll Lynch.

Filmed in the real locations in Louisiana and New Orleans – going so far as to even use the road where the final shootout happened – the film aims to be as truthful a retelling of events as possible, paying respect to the families of the Texas Rangers who took the pair down. This is a omething which the film’s director is no stranger to doing; his most celebrated films are based on true stories – Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder and The Alamo*. The writer John Fusco, meanwhile, has films like Young Guns under his belt, and certainly knows how to pen a western. And then we have a strong, powerful score from Thomas Newman and oft-beautiful Cinematography from the Oscar nominated John Schwartzman (Seabiscuit) to back it all up. Surely this is a recipe for a great film?

Well, we have a good one at the very least. Twenty minutes too long, some awkward pacing and an expectation for you to have seen the original Bonnie & Clyde (or at least be familiar with the story) serves to let the film down. The real life content that tries to give us a more authentic take on the story does makes it wholly compelling, but it did feel like pieces were missing, with certain scenes requiring more information than what was delivered.

But it’s nonetheless an enjoyable film. Fans of True Detective will enjoy seeing Woody Harrelson back in a similar role, and he delivers a strong performance alongside Kevin Costner – who mumbles his way through some scenes, but makes Frank Hamer a much more endearing character than in the original Bonnie & Clyde, which really was what making this film was all about – a film almost 15 years in the making. Kathy Bates is wonderful in her small role and Hancock does a great job of building tension and anticipation in spite of the audience knowing the ending. The decision to not show the faces of Bonnie & Clyde for a lot of the film, too, is an interesting choice, and works well to keep the audience in the point of view of the men chasing the pair.

Though flawed, with a great score, beautiful cinematography of some of the most stunning parts of America and an engaging story, The Highwaymen is sure to be one of the best Netflix Original films released this year. Fans of the original Bonnie & Clyde film and all the mythology around them will certainly enjoy the ride and though I’m far from a historian, it feels like between the two films, you’re now getting much more of the full picture of what happened in that rather grim time of American history.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Highwaymen will be released worldwide on Netflix on 29th March. The film was reviewed at SXSW.

*Fun Fact: The director shot scenes from The Alamo in The Paramount – which was where we watched this premiere – Costner was also in that film.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor of the AU review. You can find him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.