Friday, February 5, 2021

Kevinography, part 13 - The Highwaymen (2019)

This is part 13 in a series in which, for reasons not really clear, I watch all watchable movies with Kevin Costner. And maybe even some unwatchable ones. I will then comment on them here for you, including a synopsis in case you aren't familiar with them.

Synopsis: In 1934, Bonnie and Clyde are on a murderous killing spree throughout Texas and the lower Midwest. The police is powerless to stop them. Texas governor "Ma" Ferguson employs two former Texas Rangers (Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) to use their unique talents in employing violence to bring them down without much regard for the law. The two old veterans prepare for one final shootout... 

Analysis: This Netflix production flew under my radar when it arrived in 2019, despite being right up my wheelhouse, at least in theory: It's a period piece set in the 1930s and there's some gangsters. What's not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. I've remarked often in this series by now that Costner tends to play roles on the conservative spectrum, and while it sure is true that Hollywood as a whole tends to hew to the progressive side of things, it's not like there aren't any right-wing movies. For every Avengers, there's an American Sniper, and every Get Out gets matched by its own Zero Dark Thirty.

This movie is clearly in the right-wing ballhouse, much like the Untouchables. We have gruff cops who have an iron sense of morality, not burdened by such details as the letter of the law. These cops are oh so very male, and violence is of course the only recourse. Sissy politicians and media people do not understand that, of course, which is why we need these manly men to take responsibility into their own firm hands and deliver us from evil, selflessly foregoing our thanks.

I hate this formula, and stuff like this just reinforces a mindset in and about police that fuels police violence all over the world, but especially so in the US. When a movie starts off my introducing our protagonists as belonging to an essentially extralegal killing squad that was dissolved because of the trail of bodies it left behind and I'm supposed to take this as a good thing, you know there's something off.

Things don't improve with the introduction of our main killer-cop, played by a Kevin Costner with a potbelly and rasping voice. He has married well and lives the American Dream, untroubled by the Great Depression, including even randomly having a pet boar in his house. His resolute wife of course "knows who I have married" and makes sandwiches for him to ease his way into a killing spree. Nothing to sweeten up retirement.

Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, plays the other veteran, down on his luck and trying to get away from booze, swaying with every step. Have you seen Harrelson in this role before? Congratulation. It's about as interesting and deep as that.

It's all downhill from there. Costner barks monologues about "the law" at people, as if he and his colleague weren't sent into retirement because they were involved in quite a lot of extralegal violence themselves (and should have been rather sent to prison for it, along with the whole corrupt government functionary caste that allowed for this shit, if you ask me). Magically, getting barked at by a 60-year-old reactionary shows everyone the error of their paths, and along with a bit of intimidation and torture the two cops manage to get the drop on the FBI and other forces of law enforcement and pump Bonnie and Clyde full of lead. Hooray.

I don't think that the one central conceit of the movie is that bad: That the lionization of Bonnie and Clyde isn't good. Those two were killers, a murderous pair, and nothing in their life and career is worth getting idolized. But in setting a counter-point to the famous 60s movie of "Bonnie and Clyde", this one only manages to be a dreary, reactionary rump with nothing much to say other than to let violent men handle stuff and get out of their way. That's an even worse message than the original had, with its allusions to counter-culture and all.

Harrelson himself started his career with the same concept, basically, which makes all of this darkly ironic. In "Natural Born Killers", he played a serial killer who got lionized by the media. In that movie, violence is also glorified, but the role of the media is explored in much more depth and nuance than here, where every democratic element of society is made into the bad guys. Weird. 

Verdict: Another Netflix production you don't need to watch, another modern Costner movie you don't need to watch. I'm starting to sense a pattern here.


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