Friday, April 26, 2019

The Highwaymen

This is a film on Netflix that tries to portray the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde more realistically than previous films.

Kevin Costner as retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson as fellow former Texas Ranger Maney Gault are both perfect for their roles. And I mean perfect.

Harrelson is mad as a brush but he sure can act. He plays a recovered alcoholic fallen on hard times. Kevin Costner did better in retirement by marrying well and settling down nicely and comfortably.

Kathy Bates plays Ma Ferguson, Texas governor who had previously shut down the Texas Rangers for their outrageous kill everyone, shoot first and ask questions later ways of conducting their business. Their extralegal means redounded to her political difficulty. So she was resistant to the suggestion of asking Hamer to come out of retirement to take down Bonnie and Clyde because she knew it would mean unrestricted overkill.

Bates nails everything she does. She plays the duplicitous politician perfectly.

The film makes clear that the positive public opinion of Bonnie and Clyde was way out of whack. They were known for robbing banks and spreading around money to the poor, but most of their crimes were small time heists of gas stations and small stores. They killed people for just a few dollars. The population was recently recovering from the depression and banks had foreclosed on their houses, so opinion was weirdly perverted against American institutions of law and justice and for criminals perceived as getting one over and evading capture as Robin Hood type figures. It all seemed like fun.

Viewers see Bonnie and Clyde only briefly and never full body. We see the legs of Bonnie limping across a field (she really had been injured) and we see more of the car. We think, man, that's a really cool car with a running greyhound hood ornament, it must be fancy and expensive, while the rest of it is actually fairly ordinary, but still very nice, a 1934 Ford Delux. The same model car that Hamer's wife drove, except hers was black. They were V-8 engines. While Bonnie and Clyde stole their Ford just a few nights before. The automobile that was shot up actually belonged to somebody else.

Then no Bonnie and Clyde at all through the whole film. They remain the mystically hunted.

Then we see them again at the end in the scenes of them being shot up which are filmed exquisitely. Quick shots back and forth between Hamer on the road and partial shots of Bonnie then Clyde in the car. Then all the agents come out for the big shoot up. There is no return fire. There are no screams. We see Bonnie reach for a gun, and Clyde's shoe slip off the pedal and the car rolls away past Hamer and into the side of the dirt road.

I pause at that point because I like Clyde's shoe.

Turns out to be like .25 second shot. A very difficult frame to get to. We have the same taste in footwear. Except his are smaller. They both were very small people.

My favorite scene is Hamer buying guns and ammunition in a small town store. He nearly buys out the whole shop. He names all sorts of firearms. He's familiar with everything available. The shop owner and his son are amazed that Hamer is buying so much firepower.

"Do you mind me me asking what you're buying all this for?"

     "I don't mind you asking."

Without answering.

Then the shopkeeper and his son are carrying boxes of guns and ammunition back to Hamer's car and the scene is shot from a nearby bench in the shade. Maney Gault is sitting there watching them. Apparently he had been in town and noticed Hamer.

"How'd you know it was me?"

     "By the vehicle being driven so awfully. You know, Frank, you could have stopped in and told me yourself that you chose not to have me with you. Why'd you decide against asking me anyway? "

"Because you move like you're eighty years old."

     "Thank you for your honesty. A little bit too honest, actually."

So, Hamer is very direct and brusk and non-conversational. He doesn't care about hurting people's feelings. Gault is more talkative and more introspective about their past exploits. He's more troubled about what they did and what they're about to do. Hamer tells him to get over himself and questions him why then did he even want to be here.

Both men are depicted as old. Too old to be out doing such things. Hamer lost his touch at shooting bottles and Gault is aged beyond his actual years by alcohol.

They have to interact with locals and interact with proper law enforcement. There is some conflict at first but Hamer and Gault are legend to the younger lawmen familiar with stories about them doing things that the lawmen are prohibited from doing. The younger lawmen join Hamer and Gault regals them with elaborated stories. While hung up on the moral to his own story. The young lawmen hold Hamer in awe and follow his directions explicitly. They do something that they could not ever do without him. They are re-living the glory of the one-time Texas Rangers, they are re-living his mythology, and realizing there is another terrible side to it all. They are living in a time of changes and seeing for themselves and evaluating why those changes are necessary. This whole setup seems very much like crime itself. They are crossing the line in crime busting in the same way the criminals are crossing the line in their crimes. They are outdoing the criminals in crime. They are using the criminals impulse to help a person against them by murdering them, just as the criminals had previously used the gas station attendant's and store clerk's impulses to help people against them by murdering them.

The entire movie is played low key and slowly. The success of the hunt hangs on an insight of Hamer that criminals always return home. He forced the cooperation of a relative in Louisiana who Clyde had helped by buying his house for him. The relative did not want to help Hamer. But Hamer forced him. The man knew the road they would use to return home. Hamer forced the man to participate in the setup by faking a broken down car. This scene was shot on the actual road where the real life encounter happened. And doing that somewhat spooked the actors.


Sixty Grit said...

I will believe America has become great again when I can walk into a local establishment and buy a BAR and a Thompson full auto over the counter.

Your Hamer became Hammer a couple of times in there. He certainly did hammer Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but that is a story for another day.

Chip Ahoy said...

Three Hammers hunted down and shot. I mean corrected. Thank you.

windbag said...

I watched this the other night and enjoyed it. I don't recall seeing Costner and Harrelson together before. I thought they worked well. I'm currently binging on Cheers and still crack up at Harrelson as Woody.

Sixty Grit said...

I met a woman named Kelly the other day and have been singing the song that Woody wrote ever since - "Kelly Kelly Kelly" etc.