Mrs. Greenbean was gone this weekend, so I was left home unsupervised and in complete control of the remote control.
I watched the new Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, and Kathy Bates. The movie was enjoyable for me on so many levels. Let’s start with viewpoint. This is the first I’ve ever seen, and perhaps only film about Bonnie and Clyde that is told from the law’s perspective. It tells it the way it was, cold blooded criminals who were as violent and mean as any terrorist today. I appreciated that view of things.
A second enjoyable part was the view of Texas in the 1930s. My home state has changed a lot, and this was a look at the Texas my father grew up in. I don’t know where they actually filmed the movie, but the drive to Lubbock from Austin looked pretty realistic to me, as did The North Texas plains.
The third enjoyable aspect was the acting of Costner and Harrelson. I was suspicious going in, but they were perfect. There were a couple of shots of Costner that reminded me of what my father looked like when he was in his 60s–a rugged and strong man who has gained a few pounds but refuses to buy a larger shirt, and thinks he can do what he used to. In fact, the best scene is where he tries to shoot bottles flung into the air, and this is when he realizes he is an old man. Harrelson has the best lines, though. Of particular interest is his reaction to wiretap and how he doesn’t really know what it is, but he uses it several times, and each time not quite in the correct way. Reminded me of George Bush saying interwebs. Bates was good as Ma Ferguson, but I think this is one area where the screenplay may have taken liberties. My reading of history (and I could be wrong here) is she was a proxy for her husband, Jim.
There are some drawbacks in the film. The language can be a little harsh, and I doubt that was historically accurate. The movie also dragged on a bit. Solid editing could have trimmed ten or fifteen minutes. There is some gore, but, in the opinion of this historian, the gore is important here, for what we are dealing with are murderers and the Texas Rangers who caught and killed them. One more flaw, and it goes back to wiretaps. Portraying Texas Rangers as technology averse or ignorant is not accurate. In fact, my understanding is the Rangers were always ready to employ new technology to get the job done.
And now for analysis. One of the themes of the movie is the historically accurate perspective that the masses of people loved Bonnie and Clyde. This is true. A careful viewer will pick up on why–America was in the midst of terrible economic problems, and the bankers and lawmen who protect them were viewed as the enemy. Make no mistake, Bonnie and Clyde were awful human beings. However, to people living in migrant squatter camps, living from day to day, and starving to death bank robbers and cop killers can look like heroes. It also shows us that tension between under-represented communities and police officers is not a new phenomenon.