Director of the 2004 retelling of The Alamo, John Lee Hancock, and Young Guns screenwriter John Fusco replay the ballad of Bonnie and Clyde from the point of view of the two retired Texas Rangers who, on 23 May 1934, ended the pair’s deadly crime spree in a hail of bullets.
Paunchy Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his recovering alcoholic partner Manny Gault (Woody Harrelson) are Depression-era equivalents of the two minor characters in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (which demoted Hamlet to a cameo). Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are similarly sidelined here, glimpsed in long shot or a close-up of Bonnie’s heels.
It’s an original if predominantly talky approach, handsomely staged in Louisiana, with a light piano score from Thomas Newman and an ear for the times (“Jiminy Christmas!” exclaims a pious Costner).
Although more male-oriented than Arthur Penn’s 1967 account (Kathy Bates appears as Texas governor “Ma” Ferguson and Kim Dickens as Hamer’s wife), you’ll still cheer on our out-of-date lawmen on as they eschew wiretapping and other new-fangled novelties in favour of getting the job done the old way.
Hancock turns the outlaws’ fame into a narrative device and succeeds in rescuing Hamer’s reputation after he was played as an incompetent in Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde.