FILM UNFILTERED – Harrelson and Costner make a great team in ‘The Highwaymen’

FILM UNFILTERED – Harrelson and Costner make a great team in ‘The Highwaymen’


If I were ever tasked with assembling a list of my top ten films, Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” would undoubtedly be there. The autobiographical tale of the federal government’s pursuit of notorious Chicago crime lord Al Capone led by Eliot Ness is an all-time favorite of mine. It is also one of two films starring Kevin Costner that I’ve always enjoyed watching, the other being “Dances with Wolves.”

Costner is just one of those actors who has a genuine, trustworthy demeanor and instills a cool, calming presence on screen. When you team him up opposite another great actor (such as Sean Connery all those years ago) the potential exists for a promising payoff.

Over the weekend, I discovered an outstanding film called “The Highwaymen” on Netflix, which pairs Costner alongside Woody Harrelson. Harrelson of course has a career dating back to TV’s “Cheers” and his film career spans decades. If I rattled off all the great parts he’s played and all the times I’ve walked out of a theater saying what a great actor he is, I’d spend another 400 words, the remainder of this column, extolling his talents. All you have to do is search him on IMDB to scroll through the number of films you’ve seen him in and forgotten how excellent he was in them.

Teaming these two up made for an enjoyable viewing. Costner plays Frank Hamer and Harrelson is Maney Gault. Hamer and Gault were ex-Texas rangers called back into service by then Texas governor Miriam ‘Ma’ Ferguson (Kathy Bates) who was reluctant to do so, but saw them as another option to apprehend the murderous couple of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Set in the post-Depression era of 1934 and at the onset of an early FBI led by J. Edgar Hoover, Bonnie and Clyde gained almost mythical status and were perhaps the first serial killers with followers.

Hamer and Gault used their decades worth of wit and smarts to track the elusive murderers before ultimately engaging them in a devastatingly brutal shootout in Louisiana. The film adheres quite closely to the actual story and focuses far more on these two ingenious lawmen than fawning adulation or fascination on their quarry.

Costner plays Hamer with bravado and the same sort of upstanding, do-right personality of an old-time sheriff intent on catching his man; but don’t be fooled since Hamer was a gritty son of a gun who wasn’t afraid to play dirty and shoot first if need be. Harrelson’s Gault was by all accounts more relatable and perhaps the one who could talk to a suspect and get answers. Their detective skills, following leads and using their instincts helped capture these criminals who had been on the run for two years. Harrelson and Costner prove to be excellent partners here and play off each other’s abilities well.

The film was directed by John Lee Hancock who was also behind the camera for another outstanding autobiographical film, “The Founder,” which chronicled McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. This may be one of the best films I’ve streamed in the last 10 weeks. A solid, tense and satisfying film set in the flat south.

The film is rated R.

Woody Harrelson, left, and Kevin Costner star in “The Highwaymen,” the untold true story of the legendary detectives who brought down Bonnie and Clyde.