Of Bank Robbers, Green Books and Mules : Movie Thoughts

Thanks to a BOGO offer from Redbox in my morning email, I watched two good movies yesterday. I was in a movie-watching mood already. The day before the kids and I watched The Highwaymen on Netflix. I enjoyed all three of them, and to my mind, they had some common themes.

The Highwaymen is the story of two Texas Rangers and their efforts to catch Bonnie and Clyde, famous bank robbers who were considered heroes by some people because of the Depression and the huge gap in living conditions between the bankers and the poor who were struggling to survive, many in work camps. Some of the people were actively hindering the Rangers from catching the two criminals who had killed many people in their wild rampage. They thought of them as modern day Robin Hoods. In reality they were two poor, impulsive young people who made a lot of bad decisions and ended up full of so many holes that they had trouble embalming them.

The movie focuses on the viewpoint of the Rangers and the people whose lives were affected by their crimes including the families of Bonnie and Clyde and the poor people who protected them. The main actors are Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson , and Kathy Bates plays the governor. The movie is actually pretty depressing, which is only right. It’s hard not to see the two viewpoints , hero and criminal, and to sympathize with both sides, even knowing that they had to be punished for their crimes. The stark poverty of the time was well-portrayed. Here are some photos of that time period.  http://www.english.illinois.edu/Maps/depression/photoessay.htm  

It feels wrong to say I ‘enjoyed’ the movie, but I am glad I watched it. I remember as a child going with my family to see the actual car that Bonnie and Clyde were killed in. It was a traveling exhibit and it was very popular in the ’60s. I also remember the Bonnie and Clyde movie with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. That movie was focused more on the criminals themselves and definitely romanticized their lifestyle. We all know movies are meant to entertain so we can’t fault them too much, but the reality of poverty, bad choices, and ruined lives is not romantic.

The same theme, different methods, can be found in Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, The Mule. In this based-on-a-true-story movie, you can’t help but connect emotionally with the old man who gets hooked up with the drug cartel, even El Chapo himself, and becomes their best mule for transporting huge amounts of cocaine from the border towns to big northern cities. In the movie it is Chicago, but in real life it was Detroit.

The story is that he has spent his life avoiding family responsibilities and growing day-lilies for garden competitions, and he is estranged from his family. But when his money runs out he meets a guy at his grand-daughter’s bridal shower who tells him he can help him earn some quick money. He ends up needing more money for other reasons so he keeps muling.

The old man’s rough, straight-talking character is endearing and he wins over the Mexican drug dealers that he works with. But Bradley Cooper is hot on his trail, though he doesn’t have any idea that he is tracking a very old man. The movie starts off a little slow, according to my kids, but then it gets it’s hooks in you. You can’t help but feel for the old guy. In reality of course, this man is transporting kilos of cocaine to be sold on the streets to drug addicts, not very endearing at all. Of course his family appreciated all that money he gave them. Those of us who have been in tough financial spots can possibly identify with him, but I doubt most of us would do what he did to fix our problems. Another ‘good’ movie with a mixed message.

The third movie was not based on crime, but of the divide between the haves and have nots and especially racism. In Green Book, the main characters are a Black concert pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) and a White Italian club bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen) who is hired to drive and protect the pianist on a concert tour of the south in 1962.

The Green Book is a book of hotels where Black people are welcome, since the south was still segregated at that time. The two men live in New York but live very different lives. The pianist lives a very cultured, upper-class life in an apartment in Carnegie Hall. The bouncer has just lost his job and is doing anything he can for money to feed his family, including eating 26 hot dogs on a $50 bet. He loves his family and wife very much. He is portrayed as racist when he throws away two glasses after two Black men drink from them.


The bulk of the movie is the relationship that grows between the two men and how they change and develop new aspects of their personalities as they encounter the serious racism of the South. The snobbish pianist turns out to be a hurting soul and the rough-edged Italian turns out to have a heart of gold. They each improve the other. The pianist helps the man write proper love letters home to his wife and the White man helps the pianist learn about Black culture, including eating fried chicken and playing popular Black music , which he had never done before in his genteel lifestyle.

I found myself on edge when I expected something bad to happen to the Black man and cringing at the violence and racism. The twist was that the White man was also subjected to prejudiced treatment for his Italian accent and for just being with the Black man. In real life these two men became life-long friends. It’s a great story. I’m sure some details were added and taken away, but as for the movie, I loved it.




  1. My husband and I saw “The Highwaymen” the other day, and I agree with your assessment.
    Last night I went with some friends to see “Unplanned,” which we found in spite of a media blackout (I do not take kindly to other people’s telling me what I do and don’t have the right to see.) and an “R” rating (for “disturbing images”) that some believe was meant to be a deterrent to Christian movie-goers. It was a real eye-opener, which I wish that every teenager and adult could see. That’s all I’m saying for now, just find it and see it.

  2. Yes, Paula, you got off the treadmill and had a chance to relax and watch some great flicks….I enjoyed all 3 movies. I was intrigued by the true story of Eastwood’s movie, I was like, “Damn!”

    • haha, yes, I wish I could watch movies while I run on the treadmill. That would really help the time pass. And yes, the real Mule was quite a character. They tried to say he had dementia to get him off the charges. I’m sure you read about his court case?

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