It’s not clear why exactly, but a Bonnie and Clyde revival appears to be working its way through Hollywood. First, Lifetime announced a miniseries remake—that very nearly starred Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus—and now Universal and Media Rights Capital are teaming up on a different kind of re-working. Entitled Highwaymen, this film will star Liam Neeson and Woody Harrelson as the Texas Rangers who pursued Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow during their string of Depression-era robberies and murders.
Part of what made Bonnie and Clyde such a striking and important film when it was released in 1967 was the filmmakers’ bold decision to build audience sympathy for the criminals, even suggesting that their actions were a logical extension of a corrupt and greedy society. This sentiment captured the countercultural spirit of the time, tapping into the distrust of authority many Americans felt during the Vietnam War.
While it’s possible that director John Lee Hancock will tap into some of the same themes, his track record (The Rookie, The Alamo, The Blind Side) suggests an affinity for the kind Middle American naïveté that Bonnie and Clyde so vehemently opposed. Whereas most remakes simply desecrate film history by imitating it poorly, Highwaymen’s shift in perspective runs the risk of also undermining the very ideology of its predecessor.
Of course, this is all premature speculation at this point. To Hancock’s credit, he did write 1993’s A Perfect World, an underrated attempt to depict both law enforcement and the people they pursue in an even-handed manner. But even that approach represents a significant departure from the spirit of Bonnie and Clyde, which not only attempts to understand criminals, but also paints law enforcement in a negative light. No matter what approach Hancock and screenwriter John Fusco ultimately take, this should make for an intriguing companion piece—to the Lifetime remake, if not the 1967 original.