Highwaymen Review

Five years ago, Rennie Cray (Jim Caviezel) lost his wife. She was killed by a giant 1972 Cadillac El Dorado; mowed down by a killer whose weapon is the getaway vehicle. All he could do is watch, before giving chase. The resulting collision left the killer - Fargo (Colm Feore) - in serious condition, and granted Cray a lengthy jail sentence. Years later, Cray is a free man, and he soon learns that Fargo’s sadistic practises have continued. After purchasing a souped-up car of his own, his bid for vengeance begins, leading him to the killer's next victim: Molly (Rhona Mitra). After several near-death chases, Molly reluctantly joins forces with Cray to bring down the car-bound maniac. Cue all manner of thrills and spills, in which director Robert Harmon has immense fun with the genre clichés; tipping his hat to Duel along the way.

He may not be a household name, but Harmon is somewhat of an unsung legend in cult horror. His 80’s classic The Hitcher is a prime example of the suspense genre at its best. A real pedal-to-the-metal thriller that wasn’t scared to get nasty, it certainly delivered the blood splattered goods. Then, a lengthy gap in his film-making transpired, before returning with the Van Damme caper Nowhere to Run. Since then, he’s mired a successful list of TV credits (including Emmy Award-winners like Homicide: Life on the Street). But the horror genre clearly wanted more of Harmon, resulting in the watchable, but entirely forgettable They. In 2003, he returned to the type of movie that made his name - a road bound chase picture, pitting hero against psychopath. In this respect, you’d think that Highwaymen was a runaway success. Instead, it disappoints, and shows that Harmon needs a good concept and screenplay if he wants to match his brilliant debut.



I’m not trying to say that Highwaymen is a “bad” movie (it certainly deserved a better theatrical run), but it could have been so much more. There are hints at a true classic here. As an action movie, it does the job nicely. The scene in which Molly comes face-to-face with the demented Fargo is one of the tensest scenes in the film, especially since Harmon has the good sense to keep him to the shadows. Enclosed in a moody-looking tunnel, the sequence is probably the most effective, and lays bare Fargo’s sadistic nature. The moment in which the villain runs directly into Molly’s friend, only for him to drive with her clinging to the bonnet, is truly nerve-wracking. Here’s a killer that makes sure his victims are dead (and dented in every way possible).

His appetite for destruction is furthered in the films central action set piece; a scene so exciting it made up most of the trailer. He failed to get her last time, but Fargo is determined to give Molly a tough time. After sending her boyfriend’s car into an airborne spin, he chains the over-turned vehicle to his Cadillac, and drags the wrecked car halfway across the town. Harmon really loved this scene - you can tell that from every shot. The camerawork is stylish, and the editing fast. It really does set pulses racing. Unfortunately, the film fails to beat this sequence, and once Molly is placed into the care of Cray, events become very predictable and a tad mediocre.



It doesn’t help that the lead characters are deathly dull. Screenwriters Craig Mitchell and Hans Bauer fail to make us care about Cray. Caviezel does everything he can to inject life into the material, but we never really learn much about his character’s motivations. We know - and understand - that he needs revenge, but Cray shifts between sympathetic and unlikeable. Molly is also one-note. A back story is introduced about her parents dying in a car crash, but considering the story, it’s rather obvious. Mitra though, surprised me. Clearly hired for her stunning looks (she was the model that gave birth to Lara Croft), she will turn heads with her performance. It’s above-average for this type of fare, and the only member of the cast that we truly care about.

The same cannot be said for Frankie Faison’s stereotypical traffic cop, Will Macklin. His story arc goes nowhere - Cray is the only hero here. The attempts at humour fall flat, and he doesn’t play any considerable part in the conclusion. It’s good then, that the writers were so creative when concocting their dastardly villain. For the most part, Fargo is an original - a man whose injuries have left him paralysed. As Cray points out, his car is his “body” (he’s even made alterations to the design of the vehicle, with levers that close doors, and pneumatic legs that drive the machine). It really is a creepy premise, and Feore is good value. However, the tension soon evaporates when Fargo is revealed in all his evil glory - one feels that Harmon should have kept to the guessing game employed by Spielberg in Duel, and kept him out of the limelight. John Dahl did the same for the superior Road Kill, in which the killer was personified by a voice on a CB. That said, Fargo keeps Highwaymen interesting.



For all its problems (the film is dogged by mammoth plot holes and lapses in logic), Highwaymen is very enjoyable. It works due to Harmon, who saves the film from becoming garbage. His eye has remained consistently sharp, and the visuals here often inspire awe. The desert roads look beautiful, and the photography is inventive. When people get hurt, it looks painful, and the editor employs a kinetic pace that really hits home. On a technical level, Highwaymen is a step above most films of its ilk. My biggest gripe is the run time - at just over 80 minutes, it is far too short to fully satisfy. I was left longing for another action scene, and a meatier finale.

So, the question remains: is the film worth seeing? In my opinion, it shouldn’t have been dumped by New Line, since it does have worth as popcorn entertainment. Originally scheduled for a US release last August, it was bumped back until February, when it aired on less than 100 screens. It faced a similar fate here. Highwaymen deserved a little more than that. It’s far from being a classic, but many will appreciate the film for its well-staged action, and horrifying villain. Therefore, I forgive Harmon’s missteps, and recommend a rental. You could do worse.



The Disc

My favourite Hollywood studio by far, New Line frequently impress me with their DVD’s. Their edition of Highwaymen (released here through EIV), looks and sounds spectacular, but drops the ball when it comes to extras; surprising since they put so much effort into weaker films. Heck, even Dumb and Dumberer received bonus material. So, how does the rest of the disc stand up?

The Look and Sound

As I stated above, Highwaymen takes the breath away. The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is reference-quality. In most respects, it will please the most picky of film lovers. It boasts a deep colour palette, perfect skin tones, and a consistently sharp image. The metallic sheen employed by DP René Ohashi is carefully reproduced. The look of Highwaymen is its biggest asset, so it pleases to have a transfer so devoid of flaws. Bonus points are given for those flattering shots of Rhona Mitra (thank you God!)

Similar care is given to the audio, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. They’re not as robust as the transfer, but they still have enough “va-va-voom” to make your rig thump. The DTS option is the one to go for, and is pretty darn loud (not a track that will make your neighbours happy, as I foolishly found out). As you’d expect from such recent materials, the audio is top-notch, with dialogue and sound effects reproduced with the utmost care. If I had to pick a flaw, it would be with Mark Isham’s music. It’s a great score, but the audio doesn’t give it the breathing room it deserves; drowning it out in deep bass and explosions. Other than that, these tracks kick mucho-ass.

Menus

They seem to be ported over from the US release, which is good. Moodily presented, they set the tone well, with those creepy noises that every serial killer film requires. Pretty decent.

Bonus Material

With the sheer amount of quality titles released by New Line, I will be lenient with their poor effort here. All they give to Highwaymen, is the original theatrical trailer (which is worth a watch, but after you’ve seen the film). A commentary was clearly too much to ask. Disappointing.

Overall

It may skid off the rails from time to time, but Highwaymen is mostly a success, and certainly worth a look. It’s flawed for sure, but it will make you think twice when crossing the road. Oh, and a note to drivers - travel carefully on your way to the video store...

Film
6 out of 10
Video
10 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
1 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 25/06/2018 11:55:20

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