Clint Eastwood, as Texas Ranger Red Garnett, teams up with Kevin Costner, as escaped convict Butch Haynes, for a gripping manhunt circa 1963. Though both stars have won Oscars for directing, Eastwood grabs the reins and draws Costner’s scrappiest performance since Bull Durham. Butch takes a hostage in fatherless, 7-year-old Phillip (T.J. Lowther) and shows him stuff to fry the nerves of his mother, a Jehovah’s Witness. How do guns and grand theft qualify as fun? Butch, also from a broken home, makes a charming and dangerous teacher.
Red, who sent Butch away as a juvenile, pursues his man in a trailer where he can trade insults with his deputies and a sexy criminologist (Laura Dern). Eastwood is in rare form, but it’s his keen directorial eye that stops the John Lee Hancock script from slipping into TV formula. Eastwood keeps the action raucous, the humor sharp edged and the focus on the lost boy in Butch, whose attack on a black family spins the film into a shattering climax that indicts the legal system for helping to make career criminals of kids. In going beyond chase-yarn duty, Eastwood and Costner do themselves proud.