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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Highwaymen is the dramatic representation of the tracking and capture of Bonnie and Clyde, two infamous criminals who robbed and killed with abandon in the Central United States in 1934. Though the couple was romanticized in a classic 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, this new film serves to portray the meticulous, determined Frank Hamer and his partner, Maney Gault, two retired Texas Rangers who actually led the successful effort to end the violent crime spree. Other than a wild gun battle that occurs during a prison escape, the movie avoids the young couple's actual crimes, opting to show the aftermath of their sociopathic behavior (i.e., bodies left behind). The climactic sequence is a literal depiction of the actual event -- when hundreds of bullets found their targets in a car on a country road. It's a very violent, bloody sequence. Moderate cursing is heard throughout, including "damn," "ass," "s--t," "hell" as well as insults: "high-flying sissy," "gimp." One leading character, known to have a problem with alcohol, drinks in secret in multiple scenes. Characters smoke cigarettes. A notable element in the film, one that might inspire thoughtful discussion, is the celebrity status given the two killers... perhaps a glimpse of infamous media stars in later years. Mature teens only.
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What's the story?
THE HIGHWAYMEN, a movie based on actual events, pays tribute to Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), the two aging Texas Rangers who were called upon to bring their skills and resourcefulness to the manhunt for the legendary Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The infamous couple had evaded capture time and again. More than a thousand law enforcement officers, including members of the FBI, were assigned to the case in 1934, when Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson (Kathy Bates), the first female governor in Texas, elicited the services of Hamer and Gault. The Rangers had been disbanded, were scorned and mocked, so Ferguson's assignment of the two men was hardly taken seriously, despite their well-earned reputation for effectiveness. Hamer and Gault, aware that their age and physicality didn't inspire trust, were challenged, particularly by the FBI, as they carefully ran down leads that others had overlooked. Fortunately, youth and agility aren't all that matter in such a demanding assignment, and Hamer's and Gault's successful efforts became the stuff of legends, as well.
Is it any good?
Straightforward storytelling and solid performances by Costner and Harrelson make for a fine, though far less dynamic, partner to 1967's dazzling, classic Bonnie and Clyde. The Highwaymen is part police procedural, part myth-buster, and part buddy tale. The movie looks great; both cinematographer John Schwartzman and the production design team enhance director John Lee Hancock's vision of time and place; everything about the film feels authentic. Regrettably, in maintaining that accuracy, there's not a lot to surprise audiences. Hamer and Gault's machinations -- traversing Texas and venturing across its borders to focus on the villains' natural predilection for "going home" -- is smart but not always dramatic. And, Hamer's stoicism doesn't allow for a spirited relationship with his partner. Still, it's an admirable movie that gives a very honest look at the flip side of a legendary historical event.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, sociopathic killers, were very early "media celebrities" with thousands of "fans." What role do you think The Great Depression might have played in their story being romanticized? Find out more about why they tapped into the spirit of the time in which they lived. In today's culture of media superstars, how do you think they would be perceived?
The filmmakers chose to shoot the climactic sequence on the actual stretch of road upon which Bonnie and Clyde were killed by law enforcement. Why would they make that effort? How do you think it impacted the actors who were playing the parts? How does authenticity enrich the movie-making and movie-going experiences?
- On DVD or streaming: March 29, 2019
- Cast: Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Kathy Bates
- Director: John Lee Hancock
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence and bloody images
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