NYT Critic: Bonnie and Clyde Film 'The Highwaymen' 'Vengeful, Murderous, Politically Terrifying'

A new Netflix offering, The Highwaymen, is the story of the murderous 1930’s bank-robber duo of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, i.e. Bonnie and Clyde, transformed into pop legends in the influential 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. But there’s a twist: The tale is told from the other side, “the untold true story of the legendary detectives who brought down Bonnie and Clyde,” with the lawmen played by Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.

It debuted on Netflix last week after a limited theatrical release in mid-March, and the film put New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott in a grumpy and sour mood – a disposition he projects upon the law-and-order audience he assumes is the movie’s audience. His review led off with moral preening and political disapproval:

To call “The Highwaymen” revisionist -- or even reactionary -- would be an understatement. This retelling of the Bonnie and Clyde story is not content to posit that those two Depression-era outlaws got what they deserved when they died in a hail of bullets on a Louisiana back road. It has a sackful of bones to pick with the modern world as a whole. Violent criminals are a problem, yes, but so are movies, airplanes, car radios, women in politics, newspapers -- you name it. If Grandpa Simpson could figure out how to get himself a Netflix subscription, this movie would be the whole algorithm. I’m here to say I didn’t entirely hate it.

Scott's assumption in the bolded sentence is clear: You should hate The Highwaymen” because of its perceived reactionary ideology (and...unsympathetic attitude to mass murderers, apparently):

Directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) from a script by John Fusco, “The Highwaymen” offers itself as a corrective to one of the most famous -- and in its day controversial -- products of 1960s Hollywood. “Bonnie and Clyde” magnified the mystique of ’30s bank robbers by refracting it through the lens of counterculture revolt. This movie opposes that one with every fiber of its ornery being, including by its insistence on procedural tedium over cinematic excitement....

“They aren’t human anymore,” Frank says, referring to the gun-crazy kids he’s determined to bring down. The filmmakers support this thesis by keeping Bonnie and Clyde’s faces offscreen until the very end. They’re meant to be monsters, but also ciphers and symbols of a world gone wrong.

....Hancock compensates by eliminating sex appeal altogether, replacing it with stubborn, grouchy belligerence.

(....)

His sensitivity provides a foil for Frank’s unbending righteousness, and also an alibi for bleeding-heart viewers who might find themselves enjoying this tale of rough justice in spite of themselves. Costner and Harrelson generally give pretty good value. This isn’t an especially good movie -- it’s too long, too drenched in Thomas Newman’s cloyingly eclectic score, too full of speechifying and self-regard -- but it is a coherent one, with the courage of its vengeful, murderous, politically terrifying convictions.

Because taking down murderous kidnappers is so uncouth.

Humorist James Lileks picked up a trend in the reviews:

When I saw the first poster I thought ‘this is going to annoy the hell out of some people, because the wrong people will be interested in this story’

Lileks also reminds us that the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were “sociopathic a—holes.” The duo were responsible for 13 killings, both police officers and civilians, as well as the armed robberies and kidnappings.

Scott regularly injects liberal politics into his reviews, celebrating Steven Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird, about an N.B.A. rookie caught in a long strike, under the headline “A Thrilling Slam Dunk Against Capitalism.” Scott’s take on the thriller “Cold Pursuit,” starring Liam Neeson (who was involved in a controversy over racial comments when the movie came out) was prickly and sarcastic: “And please don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing ‘Cold Pursuit’ of being casually sexist or accidentally racist. On the contrary: Its misogyny and racism strike me as perfectly deliberate....”

Crime Culture/Society Netflix Movies New York Times
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