The other day, I was going through the twenty-two 2019 movies I’d seen up to that point and trying to rank them all from best to worst (for the record, the best so far was Us). While going through this list, I discovered something I hadn’t realized before: The Highwaymen is my least favorite movie of 2019 so far. Considering we’ve only just now reached April 2019, that statement doesn’t really have much weight to it, goodness knows that The Highwaymen isn’t anywhere near as bad as all-time worst films like God’s Not Dead. But of the small crop of movies I’ve seen from 2019, The Highwaymen is easily the most disposable and tedious film of the bunch.
Who exactly are The Highwaymen? Well, they’re not road-based superheroes as the title might imply. The title is referencing a pair of retired Texas Rangers who took down Bonnie & Clyde. These former Rangers are the grumpy Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner), who would like nothing more than to take down these two criminals, and the aimless Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson). Nobody, including the governor of Texas, think they can pull this off while the hordes of fans Bonnie & Clyde have don’t even want Hamer and Gault to accomplish their mission. But these two old-timers are seeking justice and won’t give up until they either achieve it or wind up dead, whichever comes first.
The poster for The Highwaymen proclaims this to an “untold true story” and considering how much of a slog The Highwaymen is, maybe there’s a reason this tale hasn’t been told in cinematic form up to this point. John Fusco’s script struggles to make this story of two old-timers being called out of retirement for one last mission in every conceivable aspect to a staggering degree. For starters, parts of the plot showing the pair of lead characters trying track down where exactly Bonnie & Clyde will end up next are utterly tedious. Solutions to any of their detective work end up being flat and boring rather than exciting “Eureka!” moments while the interactions between the two characters are similarly tedious.
Though they’re introduced as distinctly different broad caricatures, there ends up being little in the way to separate Hamer and Gault beyond the fact that Gault is the one who has to pee all the time. In their interactions together, both their dialogue and rapport together become repetitive, which is the last thing you want in a buddy cop movie (which this kind of sort of is). It’s also disappointing, as a life-long Texan, that Fusco’s script uses numerous familiar Texan cities as backdrop’s for the story yet few, if any, of the locales actually feel like classic Texas locales. Whereas great Texas-set films like Rushmore have locations that immediately scream authentic Texas environments, the sets, and the various Texas locals in the story for that matter, in The Highwayman don’t feel like they come from Texas at all.
Hamer and Gault seem like they’re wandering around any generic Western town set rather than discernably Texas locations in The Highwaymen, one of the most disappointing ways in which this movie eschews the chance to actually have a vibrant personality of some kind. Vibrancy is clearly not on the mind of director John Lee Hancock, sinks back down to the dismal quality of The Blind Side after rebounding a bit as a filmmaker with The Founder and especially Saving Mr. Banks (yes, I’m the one weirdo who liked Saving Mr. Banks) Hancock directs the proceedings with little in the way of visual flair or imagination, this is a story that should be brimming with tension yet Hancock keeps shooting it in a manner that just screams laziness rather than suspense.
Hancock’s The Highwaymen also abandons the kind of memorable lead performances that were found in his last two directorial efforts. Kevin Costner turns in a generic turn so immersed in gravely-voiced old man behavior that one expects Costner to eventually pull off a mask and reveal that he was actually Nick Nolte all along. Woody Harrelson has a few moments of light-hearted charm when he’s allowed to give his character a distinct personality but for the most part, Harrelson is stuck in a lifeless role that never offers him the chance to engage in his many talents as an actor. Any movie that fails to properly utilize Woody Harrelson as a performer is already off on the wrong foot with me and yet that’s far from the only way The Highwaymen comes up so short as a movie. Life may be a highway, but The Highwaymen is utterly lifeless.