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Non-Review Review: The Highwaymen

The Highwaymen is an uneven and clumsy piece of work.

In many ways, The Highwaymen positions itself as a logical extension of the modern deconstructive western, the tales of men on the edge of the frontier grappling with the challenges of modernity. Sometimes, those stories are set in the old west as it faces massive social shifts; The Sisters Brothers is a recent, effective example. Sometimes, these stories unfold in a more contemporary setting featuring characters still processing how the world has moved past them; Hell or High Water may be the best of the recent examples. The Highwaymen positions itself somewhere on the spectrum between the two; an early scene has the Governor of Texas offering an elevator pitch for the entire film, “It’s 1934, Lee, and you wanna put cowboys on Bonnie and Clyde?”

This is the basic premise of The Highwaymen, and it is a good one. It is two different American archetypes thrown into stark opposition with one another, a story that pits two of the last cowboys in the old west against a newer and hungrier breed of American outlaw. The Highwaymen is the story of the two Texas Rangers drafted out of retirement to hunt down Bonnie and Clyde. Forget Monsters vs. Aliens or Cowboys and Aliens or Alien vs. Predator, this is a pop cultural match-up for the ages. It is cowboys versus gangsters. (It might be more accurate to describe Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as “public enemies”, but “cowboys versus public enemies” is not quite so evocative.)

With all of this in mind, it is disappointing that The Highwaymen feels so hollow.

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