On the Direct-to-Netflix Highway(men)

With The Highwaymen, Netflix returns to its FPFP roots: Faux-Prestige FacePlants.

After a series of notable exceptions, the #content conglomerate takes another stroll down its infancy lane as a repository for high-profile failures, starry productions with direct-to-streaming execution — Academy Awards misfires of yesteryears like Tulip Fever would be Netflix’s catnip today.

Hypocrisy alert: For a movie that sharply criticizes the media’s glorification of murderers — specifically the cop-killing variety — The Highwaymen seems profoundly uninterested in the problems and flat-out crimes of the fading Texas Rangers values and lifestyles it’s also glorifying, a lack of self-interrogation that cripples the former objective, a potentially-fascinating historical corrective that could’ve served as the focus of a superior movie.

A lot of it has a legitimate conservative agenda — “Men these days aren’t real men!” / “We gotta go back to the days when our beloved police could beat up the bad guys without repercussions!” / “Back to the days when movies glorified cops, not criminals!” / “Yay law-abiding, and — when they deem appropriate — law-disregarding warriors of justice!” No matter your potential personal gripes with these sentiments, there’s novelty to any sociopolitical approach that doesn’t conform to Hollywood’s usual sanitized liberalism.

But without wrestling with Bonnie and Clyde’s appeal — which is depicted here in shallow displays of affection (“fuck the banks!”) that don’t probe the substance undergirding their popularity  — The Highwaymen fails to form a compelling argument that comes close to countering its target. No doubt included in its sights is the most famous Bonnie and Clyde ever put to screen, though little else of the movie is — nor deserves to be — in conversation with it. And suggesting Arthur Penn’s seminal masterpiece is unaware of its subject’s crimes feels like a misread.

Stray Take: Has Kevin Costner ever deconstructed his classic Hollywood looks, and the nostalgic epoch they represent? Nowadays, he’s always a grizzled, grumbling, garbling geezer with a heart of gold gripping to shades of former glory past its prime, a crusty surface reflecting bygone Americana.

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