SXSW added another memorable world premiere under its belt - the debut of “The Highwaymen”. Based on a true story, the film tells the story of Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) – the legendary Texas Rangers responsible for methodically tracking and bringing down the infamous serial killers, Bonnie and Clyde.
Directed by John Lee Hancock (A Perfect World, The Blind Side), the film was finally brought to the big screen, after 15 years on the back burner, with screenwriter John Fusco. “The Highwaymen” is a far cry from 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde”. For starters, the focal point shifts the attention from the outlaws to those that nobly brought them down. The script also gets the story straight and redeems Frank Hamer from the inaccurate and clownish portrayal of the previous film.
The film kicks off with the 1934 jailbreak of Clyde, aided by his love and literal partner in crime, Bonnie. As the infamous couple’s popularity rises among the nation set in the midst of the Great Depression a desperate Texas governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) agrees to call Frank out from retirement and temporarily bring back the Texas Ranger after continued failed attempts to capture of the elusive Bonnie and Clyde.
The story then follows the retired Frank as he teams up with his long-ago partner, Mane. As the two grapple with the weight of the task laid before them, the two set off across Texas and search of clues which other officials have failed to identify to bring an end to the killing spree. As the pair advance with resolve and piece together evidence left in crime scenes, Bonnie and Clyde are a step ahead protected by their frenzied fan base and celebrity status.
The film has poignant key scenes that are masterfully coordinated. Kevin gives a solemn and masterful performance, along with Woody’s humble and empathic character. Through shots of wide Texas landscapes, the recognizable score of Thomas Newman weaves scenes together beautifully, and captures the weight of the period and the heavy conscience of both heroes. Keeping the focus on law enforcement, the film also brilliantly keeps the anonymity of the famed killers, only revealing their faces until the climatic end which was filmed at the exact location of that fateful day.
The screening included a touching Q&A session after the film with director and lead actors The conversation celebrated the two lawmen and the Texas Rangers present in the theatre. Kevin gave a moving statement about what the project meant to him and his profound admiration and respect for all individuals that put their life on the line to protect others. In sum, “The Highwaymen” is not only an homage to Texas Rangers, it also defends the honor of Frank Hamer, who may have been the lawman of the last century.
You can listen to the entire Q&A session here.
“The Highwaymen” is scheduled for a limited theatrical release March 15. Netflix streaming is set for March 29.