Netflix Review: The Highwaymen – Rewriting Cinematic History (Spoiler-Free)

Two of the best actors of the last century partner together to take out two of the most famous criminals in American history.


It’s the 1930s and outlaw couple Bonnie and Clyde (Emily Brobst and Edward Bossert) break several of their associates out of prison. In response, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) hires former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) to track down the pair, since the FBI has been ineffective and overloaded with bureaucracy. Hamer’s former partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) joins him. While Hamer is fairly well-off, having married into money, and interested in justice, Gault is broke and needs the money. The pair try to track down the Barrow Gang through the country while dealing with the FBI’s disdain and the fact that their particular brand of law enforcement is going to the wayside.

Highwayman - 1Leads
They’re in 4 of my top 20 favorite films.


I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that Bonnie and Clyde die brutally, given that A) it’s one of the most famous scenes on film and B) it’s what happened in real life. What’s interesting is that the film knows that we know that and treats the pair differently than most focal points would be. Bonnie and Clyde aren’t in a ton of the movie and, even when they are, they are mostly kept out of focus or shot without showing their full figures. All of the majesty and romance that was given to them in the film Bonnie and Clyde by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway is stripped away and all we really see of them is the aftermath of their crimes: Dead bodies and broken families.

Highwayman - 2BonnieClyde
God, such a great scene, but so very, very horrifying.

The film really goes out of its way to rebut the depiction of Bonnie and Clyde as a modern-day Robin Hood while also pointing out that so many people were truly willing to overlook everything the pair did in the name of spiting the wealthy. In real life, and mostly in the film, Bonnie and Clyde killed at least nine police officers and a handful of civilians. At some shootouts they would fire hundreds of rounds into public areas without consideration of casualties. The film recounts some of their more horrible offenses, like murdering a gas station worker for $4.50 and murdering a family man on his way home to see his kids in order to steal his car. Despite this, women are shown to be dressing like Bonnie and poor folks are more than willing to cover for them. They have massive mobs of rabid fans which the pair even uses to keep law enforcement away from them. As it happened in real life, the pair had 35,000 attendees at their funerals, a number that, at the time, was almost unimaginable. Despite being cold-blooded killers, they were worshipped because they hurt the banks. Granted, the banks, too, are given a very negative treatment in the film, which, let’s be honest, is completely justified by the things they were willing to do to people during the 1930s. Even Gault’s home is shown being sold by the bank. However, it’s so horrifying to realize that people genuinely wanted to celebrate these two just because they stood against someone they hated. It’s like backing Jack the Ripper because you don’t like prostitutes.

Highwayman - 3Car.jpeg
This is a real mob trying to loot their corpses.

This film really is interesting, because it presents the two leads as the opposite of the pair who they’re fighting against. Hamer and Gault might both be there for different reasons, at least at first, but neither of them is looking for fame, mostly because they had it in the past and found that the things they were known for were distasteful in the long run. While they both lived and died in relative obscurity compared to the two people they ended up killing, they’re more deserving of acclaim than Bonnie and Clyde, particularly for acknowledging their bad deeds. Ultimately, the ending of the film stands in opposition to the romanticized claims of the Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway film.

Highwayman - 4Real
… Okay, they don’t exactly look like their counterparts.

I fully recommend watching it after watching the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde to get the full effect.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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