Movie Considerations & The Highwaymen

After reading a couple of favorable reviews of The Highwaymen at blogs that I am usually given to trust, I took a flyer on watching the movie – streaming video, of course, on my home computer. I can count the number of movies that I have made a deliberate effort to see in a theater over the last couple of years on the fingers of one hand and … well, wow. Just wow. Kevin Costner isn’t any Kenneth Branagh, or even a John Wayne – but he can act, especially given an intelligent and nuanced script, spare and understated direction, and production values not dependent on flashy special effects. Woody Harrelson may personally be nuttier than squirrel poop – but he also can act. Like Jimmy Stewart did before them – they are better and more interesting playing older, more grizzled characters then they were as smooth-faced young studs. So – The Highwaymen is a retelling of the hunt for and final ambush of gangsters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, glamorized beyond practically all recognition in the 1968 movie.

There were a good few roving criminal gangs in the 1920ies and 30ies, enabled by the ubiquity of motor cars, resentments of banks in a time of Depression and hardship, and a national media inclined – as they have been practically forever – to make popular folk heroes out of ordinary criminals. The Highwaymen, instead of glorifying a pair of vicious and possibly psychotic losers (who hardly appear at all, save at a distance), follows the two former Texas Rangers, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault on a long and dusty road trip – down empty country roads, through migrant camps and small towns in the Depression-era middle America: a buddy-cop and road-trip movie. Touchingly, the two of them are not quite sure they are up to it. In real life, Hamer and Gault were in their fifties at the time they were tagged to hunt the Barrow gang, survivors of hard and violent times; the old ‘Wild West’ lingered in Texas well into the 20th century. There is some small humor made from the fact that two-way police radios and phone-tapping were a new concept in law enforcement for a pair of guys who first made their bones in the horseback-and-Winchester-rifle days.

What I appreciated most, though – was how flawlessly the scenery where The Highwaymen was filmed backed up the story – yes, that was genuinely Texas; piney woods and dusty plains, with the sky arching overhead. The lonely little gas stations, the streets of Dallas where the Barrows and the Parkers lived, grimy interiors of roadhouses and coffee shops, the migrant camps and tourist cabins – all perfect, right down to the signage and light fixtures. (This was nothing like that horrible Texas Rising mini-series – filmed entirely in Durango, Mexico, in which the concept of scenic authenticity was flung down and danced upon.) The final ambush of Barrow and Parker was actually filmed at the spot where it happened, which must have creeped out the film crew and actors considerably.

All and all – a good two hours spent with interesting people: Hamer had a long and eventful history in law enforcement, which rightfully should be good for another half a dozen movies. In 1939, for instance, he and 49 other retired Texas Rangers offered their services to King George VI, to protect England against the Nazis. (A local Llano author, Elisabeth G. Wolf worked this into a supernatural alt-history fantasy.) Hamer’s wife, Gladys Johnson Sims (seen briefly in the opening scenes of The Highwaymen) should have her own movie, at that: she was at the center of the last great Texas family feud in which the principals personally took up weapons. This feud was kicked into high gear when she shot her ex-husband as he tried to force the issue of custodial visitation with their young daughters. In the town square of Snyder, Texas. In front of witnesses.

Finally, the high quality of The Highwaymen, in acting and directing talent and production values, is additional proof that cinematic creativity has moved on to new venues. Generators with a ready audience – Amazon, Netflix and the like – are creating original, interesting content. Far more interesting content than what’s nommed for the Academy Awards this year; discuss as you wish.

40 thoughts on “Movie Considerations & The Highwaymen”

  1. We saw it this week and you are absolutely right. I liked Costner in “Bull Durham” and w=he was good as a minor league baseball player because he had played college baseball.

    He was OK in “The Bodyguard” and I hated “Dances with Wolves” because it was so dishonest. My son liked it.

    I kind of like “Waterworld” because of the sailing,.My older son was pals with the kid who sailed that catamaran in the movie. He sailed in Transpac the July after the movie and his buddy sailed the catamaran out to the start at San Pedro.

    I just read “My name is Frank Hamer” and he was the real deal. Coke Stevenson took him with him to San Antonio to try to stop Lyndon Johnson from stealing the 1948 Texas Senate election. Hamer was 64 and people still got out of his way, Even the boss of San Antonio.

    Robert Caro has a whole biography of Coke Stevenson in his biography of Johnson,. The Johnson people slimed him so badly that there is very little about him that I could find. He was also the real deal.

    Autocorrect can be amusing, It made “Caro” into “Cartoonishly.”

  2. Is there any white man that the Washington Post can’t slime ?

    The writer is, of course, a Mexican American (I’m not even sure of the American part) who blames Hamer for prejudice against Mexican-Americans. The reason Stevenson brought Hamer with him to San Antonio was that the city, largely Mexican or Mexican American, was famously corrupt and run by an old style boss who spent some years in prison.

    Ballot Box #13 is the story of that corruption.

    The comments are a surprise since WaPoo is usually reliably leftist.

    This is why studying history at most colleges is a joke. Rather than looking at the truth from a holistic point of view they want to pick and choose what fits their political agenda. If the professor would like I can provide documents and evidence to show the truth is a bit grayer than she wants to portray. There are no Saints on either side. Texas and the border states have a centuries old history of murder, rape, raiding, and mayhem. I’ll bet she doesn’t teach in her classes that Mexicans paid bounties on dead Apache men, women, and children into the 1930s.

    That was one.

  3. I wrote about it too – I have watched it 4 times; downloaded 2 of the sound tracks from Amazon. I have written about the importance to me of getting movies historically correct and after watching it, did some research with interviews of the actors and director.

    I have learned that the character of Maney Gault is a composite but the movie is essentially correct. They even filmed the ambush scene at the exact location as 1934 (even put dirt over the paved road to show it as it was. The scene at the end was even more gruesome than was shown, according to the director.

    I guess I shouldn’t add spoilers so will stop but I wish I could have seen it on the big screen.

    Really a great movie, and made all outside of Hollywood.

    I really didn’t like the 1967 movie which glorified them (this one really goes into detail what they really did), but the director thinks these 2 movies should be treated as bookends.

  4. “Kevin Costner isn’t any Kenneth Branagh, or even a John Wayne ”
    In a media world that wasn’t dominated by appealing to teenagers, Costner would be a legend. He’s capable of being really, really good, but he’s an ADULT, which isn’t what Hollywood wants anymore. Open Range, for instance, is such a great movie that’s just out of its time.
    Branagh sure did flame out, didn’t he? I believe the timing of his quality career end lines up exactly with when he ditched his wife.
    John Wayne was never considered a great actor, was he? But he just had presence. I think Costner does too. You just like watching him. Another example I’d say is Tom Cruise–he is NOT a “great actor” (he has like 2 facial expressions) but he owns your attention when he’s on the screen.

  5. I think Costner made some bad movies with a strong left wing theme. Maybe those are his politics. Clooney kind of kept his politics out of some good movies and made some left wing flops.

    “Tin Cup” was not bad. He had a lot of pro golf inside jokes in it, which was great. Like betting he could hit with garden tools. I did some of that kind of stuff as a kid. He never got his golf swing just right but golf and baseball have different swings.

    I haven’t seen “Open Range.” Maybe I will. “Waterworld” was a camp movie that had no logical plot but some good sailing scenes. There are almost no decent sailing movies. The exception is “Wind”, a good movie about yacht racing.

  6. Another great one that Costner starred in was Hatfield & McCoys, miniseries on the History channel. There was also a movie way back early in his career that I think I was the only one who liked called Revenge. Co-starring Anthony Quinn. It’s a man’s movie for sure. It was based on a Jim Harrison story, author of Legends of the Fall.

    So my question is, to watch the Highwaymen do I need to subscribe to Netflix? That may be a deal breaker for me. I’ve been trying to downsize my TV bill as it is.

  7. I have always liked “Field of Dreams”. It has a kind of timeless quality to it.

    “Tin Cup” is very good. “Bull Durham” is better. “American Flyers” & “No Way Out” are both good films from early in his career.

    I also really liked him in “Hidden Figures”.

  8. I think you have to subscribe but maybe it will be available on something like Amazon.

    “No Way Out” was pretty good but Costner was kind of wooden in it.

  9. yes it was cowritten by kevin Reynolds who would later write his robin hood film, yes revenge was a great story, one of his recent offerings ‘three days to live’ was a little hokey, as a retired spy called to settle accounts,

  10. The movie was directed by Texan John Lee Hancock, who also directed a movie I loved (but apparently few others did), 2004’s THE ALAMO. (If you’re a loyal fan of the largely fantasy John Wayne’s THE ALAMO from 1960, fine. I like it too. But spare me your outrage.)

    REASON, the libertarian journal, did a largely favorable review of THE HIGHWAYMEN, and I was surprised at the negative comments that the movie took a “statist” point of view in showing Hamer and Gault as the good guys. I haven’t seen it, so I’m reserving final judgment, but . . . really? You have to be a statist to want to stop homicidal maniacs? I assume that even in a utopian libertarian society, with law-enforcement the province of a free market defense agency, someone would have to put a stop to a Clyde Barrow or a Bonnie Parker. I’m troubled by some reports that Hamer summarily executed the pair with a bullet-in-the-head coup de grace; but I don’t know the truth of that. I’m guessing that unless a trustworthy eyewitness report turns up, we never will. But everything I’ve read about Hamer (including his stand against lynching and the KKK) leads me to take his word on what happened.

  11. *raises hand* – Bilwick, I also liked the 2004 The Alamo very much better than the John Wayne version. I think it was more historically accurate, and the principle three (Crockett, Bowie and Travis) were played by actors who much more resembled them in appearance and in age. My only heartburn about the 2004 version, is I am pretty certain that Sam Houston was not quite so sullen and withdrawn a character. From all accounts he was terrifically charismatic, personally – and I rather wish that more of it had come out in the movie, and they had been able to show more of him holding the Texian army together during the ‘runaway scrape’ retreat across Texas.
    I’ve often thought that he knew his army only had one good battle in them, and they absolutely HAD to win that one, in the perfect place and under perfect circumstances.

  12. Speaking of John Wayne, we watched The Quiet Man on this past St. Patrick’s Day. I haven’t seen that movie in years. I forgot how great it was.

    The part on their wedding night when he kicks the door in and says, ‘there’ll be no locks or bolts between us Mary Kate except those in your own mercenary little heart,’ and he leaves her in the broken bed. Powerful. Then when she finally gets the dowry, she throws it in the furnace to prove it was only about honor not money. Wayne had no other possible choice but to fight her brother, and he gladly undertakes the challenge, the code of honor freeing him from the guilt of his tragic boxing career.

    Beautifully conceived and beautifully shot. I told my wife we now have to travel to Ireland so I could defend her honor by brawling and drinking Guinness, but I don’t think she’s going for it.

  13. Open Range. Yes. It seems to show up on cable channels w/great regularity. And it’s got Robert Duvall so it’s a good two-fer.

  14. Open Range was great. Like Shane, The only realistic gun fight.

    @Sgt Mom: “ are you the one who shot my friend?“

  15. On viewing the highwaymen and Netflix, i’ve always felt that you need to have a streaming device, which I learned about here, and subscribe to Netflix

    A friend of mine, proud Texan whose family goes back to Sam Houston, says she recently subscribed to a cable network that gives her Netflix. And according to her, all she has to do, they say she wants to watch the highwaymen and boom there it is

    Being that I am on the bleeding edge of consumer-electronics I don’t know. But traditionally you need a streaming device and subscription to Netflix.

    All I know is I have watched this movie four times and wished it was on the big screen.

    If it pisses off the social justice warriors, so much the better.

  16. I told my wife we now have to travel to Ireland so I could defend her honor by brawling and drinking Guinness, but I don’t think she’s going for it.<

    It has been a huge tourist attraction for Ireland. The village in the movie, is a big attraction sort of like Port Isaac, for fans of “Doc Martin,” of which I am one.

    Both towns were transformed by the movie or TV series into huge tourist attractions. Cong got its electricity thanks to the movie and the tourists. I was in Ireland in 1977 but did not go, we stayed in Dromoland Castle, which is a hotel conversion for the O’Brien family. The O’Briens wisely converted to Protestantism and saved their possessions.

    Dromoland is beautiful and I recommend it but would like to see Cong. Alas, I think we are too old for another trip. Our 2015 trip to Britain and Belgium is probably our last.

  17. You will appreciate this one. From the recent article on Frank Hamer in The American Rifleman:

    Years ago, I knew two old Texas Rangers, Dan Westbrook and Lee Trimble, who had worked with Hamer. On separate occasions they both told me the same story. They said that when the Barrow car started to pull away, Hamer fired two quick shots with his Model 8 and then sat down and lit a Camel. Autopsy photos clearly show two head shots on the pair. While there is no way to document this tale, it is certainly within Hamer’s ability to have made those shots.

  18. Thanks for the recommendations – we saw it and liked it. Love the long shots of country, love the grown ups as stars. Liked the reality. The dignity of the hats and ties; the reticence and clarity.

  19. @Ginny – nice summary

    @Robert That movie interested me so much that I started doing further research. Both Bonnie and Clyde each had over 50 bullet holes in them. The funeral director was complaining that all that made embalming difficult.

    Still, giving them a “coup de grace” wouldn’t surprise me, although they were most likely dead.

    That scene at the end – in Arcadia, the director was saying it was even more gruesome than they showed.

    I also read that in Arcadia they all agreed not to talk about it to the press. I think even with how vicious the pair was, there’d still be some sorrow in having to do what they did. At least I saw that in the scene.

    I think this is the best movie I have seen in a few years.

  20. I have read several biographies of Frank Hamer over the past year or so, as well as a number of books about The Texas Rangers, with an emphasis on their egregious behavior during the Mexican Revolution. The Highwaymen gets much right, although there are a few inevitable liberties taken with both the story and the backstories. Hancock is a master craftsman as both a writer and director. His take on The Alamo was superb. All that said, Frank Hamer killed more than 30 men during his career, and I came away from his biography which the unsettled feeling that he may have had, at the very least, some sociopathic tendencies. However, any man that was a mortal political enemy of Lyndon Johnson could not be all bad. One of the things this fine movie did was demystify the Bonnie and Clyde mystique. They were reprehensible killers.

  21. I like Open Range because I photograph in that part of Canada a lot, from Cowboy Trail (Highway #22) to Longview, Kananaskis. Eden Valley – all the way to Banff.

  22. Far more interesting content than what’s nommed for the Academy Awards this year;

    That’s a pretty low bar. Hollywood has not produced much to crow about (other than Superhero movies, which are fun) since about 2000. I haven’t thought much of any BP winner since American Beauty in 1999.

  23. Open Range is a movie not to be missed if you appreciate the American Western.

    I watched Highwaymen on line…. great movie.

  24. The coroner said that there were approximately 20 entrance wounds in each body. Parker having a couple more than Barrow. Believe me, with the weapons used, there would be complete penetration of the bodies, even through steel car bodies, so each shot would have left an exit wounds as well. The range was likely under 50 feet. No coup degras would have been needed or considered. Bset I can discern from accounts, The murderous pair were warned to stop, the car moved, and Prentiss Oakley, who was also a crack shot, fired at the first movement. Being Sheriff Jordans chief Deputy and a great shot, this makes sense to me. A free fire resulted until the mags were emptied.

  25. I will see this movie (I rarely see movies anymore – too much dumbing down to appeal to kids and those who are afraid to think).

    I will note I am not always a Costner fan, but at times he has been excellent. I can honestly say Open Range is one of the best movies in the last 20 years (and maybe one of the best westerns ever). If you have not seen it, catch it.

  26. Most movies focus on providing entertainment for the audience; nothing wrong with that because it’s the basic mission a movie must fulfill. That entertainment, however, usually comes at a price, which is that it delivers just the entertainment.

    The Highwaymen is not one of those movies.

    The film has depth one rarely sees in movies today. Costner and Harrelson are Hamer and Gault, with their faults, and favorables; William Sadler is the anguished parent who understands he has failed, even though he cannot fully comprehend why, and daily lives deep in all the suffering his failure brought to bear; the scenery, supporting cast, vehicles and wardrobe are authentic mid-1930s Depression, down to smallest detail.

    A lot of work went into getting those details right and presenting them accurately and honestly. Everyone who worked on it should be proud of the accomplishment.

    I have hope for two things about this movie: First, that it will be made available in Blu-Ray because eventually it’ll fall to the back of the listings on Netflix, and this is a movie that one needs to watch again and again to get all of it, and; second, that it gets to make the rounds, limited though they may be, in theaters because it’s one of the few movies very deserving of being seen on the big screen.

  27. Great flick, scene with Costner as Hamer in the Barrow shop speaking with his father is first rate, and sticks with you.

    Not all, but most Costner flicks are good. Open Range mentioned over and over here and for good reason. Bull Durham of course, but For Love of the Game is actually enjoyable as well. Plus, it has Vin Scully…

    And I enjoyed Draft Day, despite football liberties, I just like Costner on screen, and the rest of the story is just fun and I think the supporting cast has grit (Langella, Burstyn, Leary, and even Garner was great in it).

    I tend to think of Costner as more conservative than lets on, you can’t make Open Range with Duvall and not have something shine through on it. Regardless, great art can come from any angle, and someone’s politics shouldn’t enjoin you from enjoying the best humanity has to offer. Not listening to Streisand sing is a crime, listening to her politics is…

  28. Open Range is a movie not to be missed if you appreciate the American Western.<

    I looked at Netflix last night and could not find it. I may get the Blue Ray. All DVD formats are down 50% the past five years, no doubt due to Netflix and other live streaming.

    I also like "Broken Trail" which has Duvall and an interesting plot. It has been criticized for shooting in Canada but it is very good.

  29. Open Range is a movie not to be missed if you appreciate the American Western.<

    I looked at Netflix last night and could not find it. I may get the Blue Ray. All DVD formats are down 50% the past five years, no doubt due to Netflix and other live streaming.

    I also like "Broken Trail" which has Duvall and an interesting plot. It has been criticized for shooting in Canada but it is very good.

    Now, I'm getting a duplicate comment error message but it doesn't look like the comment has posted.

  30. I notice that there are a *lot* more interesting films, at least for my taste, on Amazon than on Netflix. There’s usually a rental fee, though there’s also a lot of good stuff free if you’re on prime.

    Re streaming, you do NOT need a special device or a cable subscription. With the right physical cable, you can connect your computer to your TV and the streaming works just fine. Only downside is that if you want to pause it you can’t use the remote.

  31. yes, I suppose waterworld can be chalked up to his friend kevin Reynolds, the postman, which he wishes he could scrub off his imdb, no other overtly political films I can see, was he in 13 days

  32. I have hope for two things about this movie: First, that it will be made available in Blu-Ray because eventually it’ll fall to the back of the listings on Netflix, and this is a movie that one needs to watch again and again to get all of it, and; second, that it gets to make the rounds, limited though they may be, in theaters because it’s one of the few movies very deserving of being seen on the big screen.

    I am somewhat compulsive, and watched it for the 4th time last night. I see new detail each time.

    The more I have read I believe the director and screenwriter took “some” liberties but it is essentially the truth. Someone said that the character of Maney Gault in the movie is a composition of several Rangers. And as someone said, the movie demystifies Bonnie and Clyde.

    The director said that it was shown on the big screen in very limited markets (that must be a while different issue for producers – distribution)

    But it is a movie that should be seen on the big screen.

  33. I am astounded that a discussion of Costner and Westerns omits any recognition of Silverado, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan at the peak of his career, coming off a hot streak featuring The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The big Chill. It stars Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, and features John Cleese, James Gammon, Brian Dennehy, and Linda Hunt among others. It is a grand salute to the glorious traditions of the genre.

    A favorite quote:

    Cavalry Sgt.: How do I know this is your horse?

    Paden: Can’t you see this horse loves me?

    Cavalry Sgt.: I had a gal do that to me. It didn’t make her my wife.

  34. How could we have forgotten Silverado? And it was made when all the “experts“ said that the western was dead I think Silverado is on anybody’s list for one of the best westerns.

    The record I read along time ago that Kevin Costner’s politics lean towards conservative.

  35. Open Range isn’t streaming for free anywhere at the moment.

    I use this web site to figure out where to find movies when then itch strikes me:

    My wife and I watched and liked it. The 18 year old daughter came home from work just under half way through and watched the end. She was puzzled about why Bonnie and Clyde were thought of as rock stars.

    I wasn’t nearly as troubled by the story of the shootout with the Mexican gang, given the background, no warning should have been required. Oh well.

  36. Many of Costner’s movies were enjoyable if taken with a grain of Hollyweird salt. Critics ruined Waterworld for me, preconceived notions. It was an okay movie but, Costner should have lost more weight for the role. There was a spare tire in plain view the entire movie which didn’t fit with the context. Still, he remains a gorgeous guy with good screen presence.

Comments are closed.