In a moment when there's nothing more valuable than a new spin on old intellectual property, flipping the perspective on a story is often perceived as the height of innovation. These spicy takes on familiar genre tales often go like this: Imagine if Captain Hook, the bad guy in that boring old Peter Pan narrative, or the Joker, the villain who torments Batman, were actually misunderstood good guys. (Pretty frickin' "twisted," right?) The Highwaymen, Netflix's new original film starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as a pair of Texas Rangers, attempts to pull off a similar trick by reframing a piece of well-worn American mythology, the crime spree of bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, as a police procedural told from the point of view of the cops who gunned them down.
Given the massive pop cultural footprint of Arthur Penn's 1968 classic Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the Depression-era outlaws, The Highwaymen is fighting an uphill battle from its opening frame. Do you want to watch a Bonnie and Clyde movie without Bonnie and Clyde? Are these officers really more interesting than the populist thieves they pursued? Doesn't the whole idea scan as authoritarian? On a less serious level, it feels like remaking West Side Story to tell Officer Krupkey's side of the story. Sure, you could do it -- but why would you?
Unfortunately, The Highwaymen never gets around to answering that question in a compelling, invigorating manner. Doing his best with a less-than-gripping plot, director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Founder) at least cast two likable actors in the main roles. With his gruff voice and sturdy frame, Costner is an inspired choice to play Frank Hamer, a legendary Texas lawman (controversially) portrayed as a fool in Penn's film, and Harrelson brings his reliably playful, melancholy touch to the role of Hamer's partner, the more self-reflective Maney Gault. These are Good Dads you want in a Dad Movie that will slide next to Godless and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on the Netflix home page.