America, 1934, Great Depression. The gang of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – “Bonnie and Clyde” as they are called in the media – is rampant in Texas. Catching this gang is extremely difficult for two reasons. Firstly, there are so many corpses on the conscience of Bonnie and Clyde that they, without hesitation, open fire on the policemen who are trying to stop their car. Secondly, through the efforts of journalists who call this couple “Modern Robin Hoods” and inspiringly lie about the “unearthly love” of these two scumbags, the local population is actively helping the gang.
And then there’s Bonnie and Clyde so insolent that they arranged an escape for their accomplices from a Texas prison. Warden Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) persuades Texas Governor Ma Ferguson (Kathy Bates) to seek help from former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner). It was Ferguson who disbanded the Rangers, but now they can’t do without them.
Hamer, having received an invitation, initially refuses. He is married to a rich woman and lives in a great house. The government is offering him a hundred and thirty dollars a week for a deadly job – and this government would not go to hell, Hamer tells Simmons.
However, after hearing about another shooting of policemen by Bonnie and Clyde in Missouri, Frank agrees to take part in the hunt for the gang. He is also joined by his former partner Mani Gault (Woody Harrelson): unlike Frank, Mani lives in poverty.
Rangers receive police badges and official papers, in which they are called Highway Patrolmen. Their powers do not extend beyond the state of Texas, but Frank never cared about such subtleties: he is faced with the task of finding and destroying the gang. After so many murders, including the corpses of police officers, no one is going to arrest Bonnie and Clyde.
The story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is interesting primarily because of the ease with which the media turned a gang of brutal killers into folk heroes and almost Tristan and Isolde. Or Eloise and Abelard – whichever you prefer.
Interestingly, this “glorious” tradition was picked up in Hollywood: in 1967, director Arthur Penn released the film “Bonnie and Clyde”, where all this romanticization and poeticization happily continued: Clyde was played by the polished handsome Warren Beatty (he was also one of the producers of the film). ), and Bonnie was portrayed by the excellent actress Faye Dunaway. The film was very well staged and is considered a film classic, but this does not change the essence of the matter: the picture just continued the disgusting tradition of romanticizing thug killers.
Screenwriter John Fusco has been researching these events for years. He befriended the son of Frank Hamer, one of the four Texas Rangers who, along with two Louisiana cops, ambushed Bonnie and Clyde and finally put an end to the gang.
Fusco thought of writing a script that would show the whole story from the other side – from the side of the Texas Rangers who were hunting for these criminals. He introduced this idea to producer Casey Silver, and in 2005 they began to work together on the project: Paul Newman and Robert Redford played Frank and Mani Silver.
It was possible to launch the project in 2013 at Universal, but things were moving very slowly. In 2017, the Netflix streaming service became interested in the project, which, in addition to series, began to actively invest in the production of feature films with famous actors. (One of these films is the thriller Triple Frontier.)
Netflix enlisted the consent of Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, who were planned for two main roles, as directors they invited Texan John Lee Hancock, who directed films such as The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. The project was purchased from Universal and filming began in early 2018.
By the way, the original name The Highwaymen primarily means “highway bandits”, but in this case, as far as I understand, this term is more correctly translated as “highway cops”, because when Frank is again invited to work, he is not made a ranger, and “special road policeman” (special highway assignment).
What did they get out of all this? “Chasing Bonnie and Clyde” is a long film (it runs for two hours and twelve minutes) and very leisurely. As such, there is practically no action in it at all, except for the scene of the shooting of a car with a gangster couple.
For almost the entire film, Frank and Manny travel back and forth, looking for traces of the gang, talking to each other about this and that, bickering with the FBI, who have an assignment from Ma Ferguson to find criminals before the Rangers, eat all sorts of rubbish, communicate with all sorts of trash, but, interestingly, their shirts remain snow-white, as on the first day of the trip.
All of this was filmed very beautifully: endless forests and fields of the southern states, cars of those times, the atmosphere of the Great Depression. Cameraman John Schwartzman – he worked with this director in four of his previous films – is simply the highest rating: it was filmed very uncommonly and with great skill.
Also, one can’t help but applaud the film’s correct message as such: to talk about those who eventually stopped this gang, and not to drool over Bonnie and Clyde’s “ethereal love”. (In fact, Clyde, according to the information received from the members of the gang, was a homosexual, and Bonnie brought her lover Roy Hamilton into the gang, with whom Clyde also slept: it was a high, high relationship.)
However, what this picture lacks so much is fascination and dynamism, and it is also very much dragged out. And so it all looks boring, and also the duration is more than two hours: it seems to me that this was done in vain.
Such a length could be forgiven if the screenwriter bothered to write sharper and more interesting dialogue between Frank and Mani, but John Fusco did little to do with this: for the most part, conversations between partners are empty and uninteresting. And only the charisma of these two very good actors somehow brightens up what is happening.
It was also very disturbing that the second main character, Mani, was very poorly outlined purely in terms of the script. Who he is, what he is – we practically do not know. Frank’s character is noticeably more understandable, and Mani is somehow more for furniture here. We were plainly told only that Manny loves to sing and Frank cannot stand it, as well as the fact that Manny has prostatitis and he runs forty times to take a piss at night – that’s the whole psychological portrait.
Plus, the screenwriter could not resist and inserted into the plot a completely superfluous, in my opinion, scene when Frank comes to talk to Clyde’s father and tells how he became a ranger. I thought it looked very fake. However, some of the reviewers called this episode the decoration of the film.
It was evident that the director wants to make a new “The Untouchables” out of this picture, where the same Kevin Costner played the head of a small detachment of FBI people trying to put Al Capone in jail. But “The Untouchables” is a very fascinating picture, with excellent dramaturgy and a lot of all sorts of psychological nuances, and “Chasing Bonnie and Clyde”, alas, did not rise above the production drama. What a pity, because the actors are excellent (Kathy Bates and John Carroll Lynch flashed in secondary roles), and visually done just fine, but with the script they clearly did not hold out. I hoped it would be better.
PS Well, we note that in the film, out of delicacy, they did not mention how nicely the rangers and police profited from Bonnie and Clyde’s property after the murder. Hamer became the owner of the gang’s arsenal (criminals stole most of the available weapons), they auctioned Bonnie’s personal belongings for souvenirs (the Parker family asked to return things, but they were refused). Also missing was a suitcase of cash that was in the car – according to rumors, it was appropriated by Sheriff Jordan. The sheriff also wanted to keep the shot car for himself – well, just as a keepsake – however, the owner of the car, from whom it was stolen, demanded in court that the car be returned to her – and the court satisfied the claim.
Chasing Bonnie and Clyde / The Highwaymen movie review
Director: John Lee Hancock Cast: Kathy Bates, Woody Harrelson, John Carroll Lynch, William Sadler, Kevin Costner, Kim Dickens, Thomas Mann, Dean Denton, David Furr
Crime drama, USA, 2019, 132 min.