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Film / The Highwaymen

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The Highwaymen is a 2019 crime film directed by John Lee Hancock and released by Netflix.

In the early 1930s during The Great Depression, notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are carving a bloody path through the Midwest, and retired Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) are tasked with tracking the pair down.

No relation to Highwaymen.


  • Actor Allusion: Early on, mention is made of Robin Hood and Wyatt Earp — both of whom have been played by Kevin Costner.
  • Antagonistic Governor: Texas Governor "Ma" Ferguson makes clear throughout the film that she has no love for the Texas Rangers and doesn't want Hamer and Gault to succeed because of this.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: At one point, a reporter asks Governor "Ma" Ferguson of Texas about people comparing Bonnie and Clyde to Robin Hood. She gives the reporter a Death Glare and asks: "Did Robin Hood ever shoot a gas station attendant for four dollars and a tank of gas?"
  • Artistic License – History: Most of the movie averts this trope and actually does well in showing off the time period, even having the final shootout (if you can call it that) at the exact spot where it actually happened. However, it does get a few things wrong, for example:
    • Ma Ferguson and the other government officials claim that the Rangers were disbanded when Ma took office; in reality they were still around, though quite incompetent and filled with Ferguson lackeys. Ma in reality was quite fine with Frank Hamer being chosen to lead the Manhunt as while they were at odds during his time as a ranger, once he retired she showed no ill will towards him.
    • Simmons is told that Hamer has his own security firm and has been working with oil companies; actually by 1934 Hamer was technically unemployed for two years, technically having an unpaid internship on the Texas State Patrol. The offer of hunting Bonnie and Clyde was actually the first real paying job he had since retirement, the previous two years had been spent lobbying Washington DC to be appointed a US Marshal.
    • Hamer and Gault received far more support from other law enforcement officers than is portrayed in the film, hell the FBI wasn't really much of a law enforcement branch at the time of the hunt as it was mostly staffed by lawyers and clerks. It wouldn't be until after this hunt that J. Edgar Hoover would overhaul the organization.
  • Asshole Victim: Bonnie and Clyde of course. After a long and bloody crime spree across the American Midwest, the couple are finally ambushed by the police and are completely massacred with machine gun fire. With all they had done and with all the people they had killed, the pair certainly had it coming.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: Gault is so surprised at the sound of Hamer firing the Colt Monitor machine rifle that he falls over. Truth in Television as the recoil compensator creates a concussive blast that can be quite startling.
  • Bribe Backfire: Invoked by Hamer and Gault in order to weed out potentially corrupt cops by having Gault pretend to be acquainted with the Barrow gang and offer a Louisiana Sheriff a bribe. When the Sheriff tells him to get the hell out of his parish for attempting to corrupt an officer of the law, they know they can rely on him.
  • Bond One-Liner: Played with. Gault recounts a time when they were chasing a murderous gang, and every time the lawmen warned the gang to put their hands up ("manos arribos"), the gang responded by firing at them. Hamer's answer was to launch an attack in the dead of night, without warning, and kill the entire gang while most of them were asleep. Once the entire gang was dead, Hamer said "manos arribos, ya sons a' bitches". While it's a generally heroic example, Gault's recounting makes clear that he's still haunted by the incident, and a bit creeped out by Hamer's attitude. Maney later repeats the line after Bonnie and Clyde are killed.
  • Brick Joke: When they first team up, Hamer flat-out refuses to let Gault take his turn driving. Right before the end of the movie, Hamer is shown changing places with Gault for the drive back to Texas.
  • Broken Pedestal: Early on, Hamer and Gault meet a young cop who was childhood friends with Bonnie and Clyde and provides a little exposition about their start as outlaws and pretty much implies he would not be able to hurt them. The Rangers eventually drive him to one of the gang's crime scenes and an enraged Hamer tells the kid to take a good look at the cop Bonnie head-shot at point-blank range while he was lying on the ground and that he shouldn't consider them human anymore. They use that same cop to identify Bonnie and Clyde before they're ambushed, and even though Gault gives him the chance to avoid shooting, he insists on taking part.
  • Buddy Cop Show: The film follows Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, the two Texas Rangers who apprehended and killed Bonnie and Clyde. However, while their partnership forms a large part of the plot, it's more of a quiet western drama and neither man (both of them veteran lawmen who came out of retirement for the job) is in a laughing mood given the murderous crime spree they're charged with stopping.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Three hoodlums associated with the Barrow gang attempt to intimidate Gault while he's relieving himself. He shoves the first guy's head in a toilet and pulls a gun on the other two, admonishing their audacity to actually try to rob a man taking a leak, and a Texas Ranger at that.
  • Cassandra Truth: Hamer is convinced that Bonnie & Clyde are coming back to her parents' home on Easter Sunday because of a wiretapped conversation about "red beans and cabbage," which he believes is a code phrase. When Sunday arrives, the FBI people are gently chiding him for thinking the criminals would come back home when suddenly they receive a call about Bonnie & Clyde being involved in a big shootout right outside of town.
  • Chase Scene: Featuring Depression-era cars, no less.
  • Children Are Innocent: When Hamer and Gault were asking around a Hooverville for information, all the people there refuse to provide information. The only person who tells them where Bonnie and Clyde went was a little girl who Bonnie gave a doll to, and she only informed after Hamer told her that the bandit couple were bad people and were going to keep hurting others.
  • Come to Gawk: Crowds of gawkers, reporters, souvenir hunters and hysterical fans mob the outlaws bullet-riddled car as it's towed down the street.
  • Conveniently Empty Roads: While chasing Bonnie and Clyde, Hamer and Gault encounter very little traffic. Justified, since it takes place in the 1930s.
  • Cop Killer: At one point Bonnie murders a peace officer after he was too injured to fight back.
  • Cowboy Cop: Hamer uses methods that would be regarded as police brutality by a metropolitan officer, but Texas Rangers in the old days really did have this reputation. In the opening, the then-Governor of Texas, "Ma" Ferguson, even balks at the idea of sending a "cowboy" to hunt down criminals. Gault tells of an incident years earlier when the Rangers were trying to capture five dozen banditos. They would approach and shout "hands up" in Spanish, as per the book, and get shot at, usually losing a man in the process. Hamer arrives and has them attack at night when the banditos were asleep.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Early on, Hamer explains to Gault that he decided against recruiting him to come along after seeing him move like an 85-year-old. Towards the end of the film, he jokingly tells him, "for the record, you only move like you're 75."
  • Dead Foot Leadfoot: When Bonnie and Clyde are killed, Clyde's foot slips off the clutch, causing their car to creep forward, giving the posse the impression they were still alive and trying to escape and/or run over Hamer.
  • Deconstruction: Bonnie and Clyde's Folk Hero status is given a work-over, mostly by showing that they didn't deserve it and it blinded people to the fact they were kill-crazy maniacs.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Invoked; Hamer knows that outlaws always return home at some point.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Played with and having a long set-up time: in one of the early scenes of the film, an old man with a nice car is stopped by the Barrow gang and as he notices who is blocking his path he says "God, have mercy" and the camera focuses on a tiny doll dangling from his rearview mirror as the scene cuts. When Hamer and Gault arrive to a shanty town to ask around, the only person willing to tell the Rangers anything about the Barrow gang is a little girl, and she walks away for a few seconds before coming back to where the Rangers are and showing them that same doll, saying "the woman (Bonnie) gave me this". This cements once and for all what the previous scene implied, which is that the Barrow gang took the old man's car and probably killed him too.
  • Evil Is Petty: The first crime we hear about the Barrow gang, besides the jail break of the prologue, is "Ma" Ferguson mentioning to a reporter that the Barrow gang killed a gas station attendant to steal four dollars and not pay him for some gasoline.
  • The Faceless: Bonnie and Clyde are rarely shown up-close until their death scene, adding to their mystique. Bonnie is given a close up when pointing a gun at a downed policeman and saying "Hi, sweetie" before the scene cuts, while Clyde isn't shown in a close up until the end. When Hamer finally has them dead to rights after luring the pair into a trap, the two spree killers look surprisingly young (they were in their mid-twenties when they committed their crimes).
  • Faking Engine Trouble: The plan to finally stop Bonnie and Clyde requires enlisting the help of the father of one of their associates to park his truck on the only route to his house where they're staying, and fake a flat tire so that the pair will stop to help, providing the perfect opportunity for Hamer and his men to apprehend them. They do fall for the trap, but they're not willing to go quietly.
  • Fame Through Infamy: The film explores how Bonnie and Clyde's fame as outlaws is just plain wrong. Most of the main cast, as people of law, don't hide their disgust at this fact.
    Gault (reading one of Bonnie's crappy poems, which was published by a newspaper): Used to be that you had to be a good writer to get your stuff published. Now all you have to do is kill people.
  • For the Evulz: How Hamer sees Bonnie and Clyde rampage throughout the nation. It pisses him off every time when people consider them anything else than deranged killers.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Bonnie and Clyde are eventually killed in a Multiple Gunshot Death by law enforcement when Hamer and Gault track them down.
  • For Want Of A Nail: When Hamer talks to Clyde's father, they both argue that this often turns people into who they are. The latter claims that Clyde's Start of Darkness was stealing a chicken out of hunger and being monitored by the police long afterwards. Hamer relates that his entry into law enforcement began when he killed his boss in revenge for shooting him, and that the only reason he wasn't charged with murder was because the man he killed was already a wanted criminal.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Texas Department of Corrections Chief Lee Simmons convinces Governor "Ma" Ferguson that she should hire Hamer to hunt Bonnie and Clyde, even if she hates getting any Texas Rangers in the case (and she still tries to undermine their efforts throughout the film) because, as he makes clear, Bonnie and Clyde have been on an uninterrupted six-month rampage, the regular folk now think of them as heroes, all investigations so far have done nothing to get them and cops have been slaughtered left and right. She already is knee-deep in embarrassment and she needs them dead now.
  • Great Escape: Bonnie and Clyde breaking several prisoners out of Eastham Prison Farm is what instigates the film's plot. Truth in Television, and historians believe this was Clyde's ultimate goal of the crime spree - to get revenge against the prison due to abuses he suffered during a two-year stay within its walls.
  • Gun Porn: The scene where Hamer buys all his guns at once from a single gunstore is pure Rule of Drama.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed in-story as the recipients of this, with people crying at the news of their death and thousands attending their funerals. The movie itself averts this, making it clear that they were bloodthirsty murderers.
    • The film's portrayal of Frank Hamer leans into this trope. Hamer is shown to be fairly mild-mannered by the film, and hesitates on accepting the offer to hunt Bonnie and Clyde due to his family. In reality, he retired because he refused to serve under a female governornote . He balked as the initial offer Chief Simmons made for the hunt, as it was half of what he was earning as a strikebreaker for oil companies, and had a long history of Cowboy Cop antics both goodnote  and badnote .
    • During the climax; Hamer attempts to get Bonnie and Clyde to surrender and the group does not open fire until they see them attempt to pull out their weapons. The accounts of the real ambush vary, but most agree that the posse didn't give an order to halt before opening fire, and other accounts claim that Deputy Oakley jumped out and opened fire too early, leading the rest to follow along.
    • The ending of the film strongly implies that Hamer's reputation is hit from being the face of the group that killed Bonnie and Clyde, but the truth is more complicated. Public opinions on the pair had already turned against them by the time of the ambush but the circumstances of the ambush, chiefly the supposed lack of a halt order and the overwhelming firepower unloaded into the two, is what caused public sympathy to swing back toward the outlaws.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In the inverse of the usual portrayal they receive, Bonnie and Clyde are even more ruthless and bloodthirsty than they were in reality. This includes shooting a gas station attendant dead over four dollarsnote , pinning the murder of Wade McNabb on Clydenote , and Bonnie executing a wounded officer during the Grapevine shootingnote .
  • Housepet Pig: Texas Ranger Frank Hamer keeps a boar called Porky in his house, much to his wife's displeasure. Porky basically behaves like an Angry Guard Dog for his master, though he respects him enough not to attack anyone Hamer tells him not to.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Hamer and Gault are technically only allowed to investigate crimes within the State of Texas and run into a smarmy FBI agent several times. At one point, when they're told to turn back by a road block for crossing state lines, Hamer decides to ignore it.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Defied. The two times in the film that someone tries to defend the Outlaw Couple by saying that they think they are like this, the heroes point out that this pair of sociopaths kill people indiscriminately, including a poor gas station attendant that they didn't want to pay and any cop that has the bad luck of getting in their way, and do not deserve this label.
    Governor "Ma" Ferguson: Did Robin Hood ever shoot a gas station attendant for four dollars and a tank of gas?
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: One of the cops killed by Bonnie was fatally wounded but not instantly killed... so she kicked him around while he was lying on the ground so he would look up to her and see the Coup de Grâce coming.
  • Last Stand: Defied. The whole point of the ambush plan was to prevent Bonnie and Clyde from trying this because they are The Dreaded and the moment Bonnie still tries to go for her gun the whole bunch of lawmen open fire.
  • Made of Iron: Truth in Television. While not getting any serious injuries onscreen, it's mentioned that Hamer was shot seventeen times. And still carrying some of those bullets in his body.
  • Mathematician's Answer: After Hamer buys more than a dozen guns and ammunition to spare, the gunstore owner asks him what he needs all the firepower he just purchased for, if he "don't mind him asking". Hamer just retorts "No, I don't mind you asking at all" without elaborating further.
  • Middle Name Basis: Benjamin Maney Gault goes by Maney.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: As shown above, Costner is billed over Harrelson, but their characters are shown in reverse order.
  • More Dakka: Both sides live by having guns and riddling their targets with multiple rounds. For instance, Hamer, Gault and their assisting lawmen fire everything on Bonnie and Clyde with no hesitation during the ambush.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: When Hamer and Gault first begin the mission, they are at first hesitant at the prospect of killing Bonnie because she is a woman. Yet the film portrays her as being more violent and unstable than Clyde, and in the last standoff she's the one who reaches for her gun.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death:
    • The film culminates with the multiple-gun death of Bonnie and Clyde from the perspective of the policemen who put the ambush together.
    • This is the usual fate of police officers faced by the couple, as they use Browning Automatic Rifles and submachine guns as their weapons of choice.
  • Oh, Crap!: Bonnie and Clyde get a really nice "deer in the headlights" look on their faces when they notice that they are surrounded by a dozen lawmen packing automatic weapons and no desire to take them in alive.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Hamer and Gault are two aging Texas Rangers who came out of retirement to hunt down Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, a young Outlaw Couple. For a given value of "villain", all of the members of the newly-formed FBI that appear are also young and incredibly smug and try to undermine the Rangers' work at every turn.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Hamer and Gault carry their pistols this way, and the former is shown practising his Quick Draw starting each time with his gun tucked into his belt.
  • Perspective Flip: We follow the men that hunted Bonnie and Clyde while their historical rampage is happening elsewhere, with their only true face-to-face meeting being the moment in which the cops slaughter the couple.
  • Reconstruction: Of Frank Hamer's reputation after the infamous hatchet job done on him in Bonnie and Clyde. Far from a buffoon, he was a dedicated police officer doing his job and not motivated by revenge as the older film implies. There is also Truth in Television to this trope; Hamer served with distinction as a Texas Ranger for twenty seven years and was well known as a top notch investigator and a crack shot who succeeded more often than he failed.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Discussed. When Gault is telling the story about how he and Hamer killed off a bandito gang well before the events of the film, he makes a point of mentioning that the banditos not only murdered a dozen people but raped just as many women.
  • Retired Badass: Gault is living off the charity of his daughter, while Hamer is comfortably employed by the oil companies.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Zigzagged; while Gault and Hamer do favour Colt Single Action revolvers, Hamer makes sure to buy some automatic weapons for More Dakka (and because he's not as accurate as he used to be), though he also includes a lever action rifle so he'll have one weapon that he can be sure won't jam.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Inverted. Hamer and Gault convince one of the prisoners that Bonnie and Clyde tried to break out, a kid named Wade McNabb, to attract them into a trap in exchange for early parole, and even get him out of prison so he can hold his part of the deal. McNabb remains loyal to Bonnie and Clyde and tells them about the trap. When Hamer and Gault arrive to McNabb's home to arrest him for breaking the deal, they discover that Bonnie and Clyde beat him to death with a baseball bat as "thanks".
  • Running Gag:
    • A lot of jokes are made about Gault's age and his constant need to go to the toilet. He eventually ends up confronted by three hoodlums inside one and beats them into submission while taking a literal piss at them.
    • Early in the film, Hamer has to explain to Gault what a wiretap is. Gault then tries to show off in two later scenes by talking about wiretaps.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: At the end, after killing Bonnie and Clyde, a New York reporter from the Associated Press offers Hamer a thousand dollars for an interview. He just walks off in disgust while Gault mutters "shame on you".
  • Secret Test of Character: The two Texas Rangers pursuing Bonnie and Clyde track them down to Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Since they're out of their jurisdiction, they have to rely on local law enforcement to apprehend the pair, but the state's Sheriffs are notoriously corrupt. So in order to ensure they're not dealing with a Dirty Cop, one of them pretends to be an acquaintance of Clyde Barrow and slips the Sheriff a wad of bills. When he angrily refuses the bribe, they know they're dealing with an honest lawman.
  • Scary Impractical Armor: The locals have a good snigger at a Thompson-armed police officer clanking around outside the Barrow residence in what looks like a 1930's mecha-suit.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: It's made pretty clear that Gault's time as a Texas Ranger and the bloodshed he did during it (including accidentally shooting a child) has taken its toll on him.
    Gault: I don't sleep much anymore. When I close my eyes, all I see is dead Mexicans.
  • Smug Snake: The amount of law enforcement and government people who aren't these can be literally counted with one hand.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Bonnie and Clyde and other films that glamorized the Outlaw Couple pair by depicting them as free-spirited Lovable Rogues (a glamour that is mostly still lasting today). Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker are never shown up close until their death scene, only seen from afar as they're robbing civilians and graphically murdering police officers, as if all we're seeing is eyewitness testimonies of their worst crimes. Additionally, the actual main characters, Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two seasoned Texas Rangers, are depicted as quite methodical and ruthless in their quest to hunt down the two without any attempt to whitewash their actions, and are even depicted as pretty boring everyday people. For them, it's just a job like any other and unlike Bonnie and Clyde, they're not in it for the glory.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: Hamer believes that if you're facing banditos or an Outlaw Couple who respond to demands to surrender with lethal force, there's no point in giving them fair warning.
  • Sudden Humility: A gas station attendant at first arrogantly tells Hamer and Gault that he admires Bonnie & Clyde and won't help them. Hamer beats the man, which does nothing, but then tells him in graphic detail about the innocent police officer the two outlaws just killed for no real reason, and about that officer's now-destitute family, smashing the pedestal from under the "folk heroes". The attendant gets somber and provides the Rangers with all the information he knows.
  • Suit with Vested Interests: "Ma" Ferguson hired Hamer and Gault because she wanted to show she was doing every effort to get Bonnie and Clyde, but she has absolutely no love for the Texas Rangers (which had actually been disbanded by her some years prior and remained disbanded until she retired from her charge) and wants any other cop (hopefully that newfangled FBI) to get the outlaws first. Of course, when the outlaws end up being killed thanks to the efforts of the former Rangers, she is quick to say that she knew it was a good idea to hire them.
  • Technology Marches On: In-universe, Gault is astonished by the concept of government agents wiretapping the phone lines and car-mounted radios (two-way and regular). He doesn't have nice things to say about cars, though.
    Gault (while riding shotgun in a scene): I don't think a saddle ever screwed up my butt as much as this seat!!
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • The first thing Hamer does after being commissioned to track down Bonnie and Clyde is to visit the gun shop in his old partner's town and stock up an arsenal of various handguns and high-caliber rifles.
    • During the final shootout, the lawmen make damn sure Bonnie and Clyde will not survive, primarily by hosing the two and their car with enough bullets to destroy a small village. When they run out of ammo for their machine guns, they instantly switch to handguns and put another barrage into the car just to be sure.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Bonnie and Clyde are caught by surprise by Hamer, but still reach for their weapons. Of course they had nothing to gain by surrendering as they were facing the death penalty anyway.
    • Discussed when Hamer talks of how as a teenager his boss offered him money to kill a business rival, only for Hamer to threaten to warn his intended victim. Sure enough Hamer ends up getting shotgunned In the Back instead. Fortunately his would-be murderer failed to finish him off, so when Hamer recovered he went to the man's house and shot him dead.
  • Truer to the Text: This film is more historically accurate than Bonnie and Clyde. That said, it still takes few liberties with portraying the events and characters.
  • Truth in Television:
    • The ending shootout (featuring Hamer, Gault and other law officers saturating Bonnie & Clyde's car with bullets) seems gratuituous...until the closing credits show actual photos of the scene. If anything, the film underplays what happened.
    • The same can be said of the later scene where a crowd swarms the cars carrying Bonnie and Clyde's bodies. In real life, one woman cut off bloody locks of Bonnie's hair and pieces from her dress. Also, while many did take shell casings and shards of glass as souvenirs, people attempting to cut off Clyde's ears and fingers were stopped before the gruesome souvenirs could be collected.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Just barely - the Wild West is long dead, but Hamer and Gault are old enough to remember its last gasp as their Glory Days.
  • Urine Trouble: There's a Running Gag of Gault having to stop and urinate during the long manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde. However he ends up weaponizing this trope when some hoodlum friends of the Barrow gang try ambushing him in a public toilet. As their leader brandishes a Sinister Switchblade, Gault turns to face him while still urinating—startled, the hoodlum looks down enabling Gault to clobber him and shove his head in the toilet, while drawing his pistol on the other two.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: After tracking the pair for months with no success, Hamer and Gault circle back to Bonnie and Clyde's hometown, where Hamer confronts Clyde's father Henry. The man explains that Clyde wasn't born evil, but he knows that the nature of his son's crimes means he's marked for death. He just begs Hamer to end it already to spare the rest of the Barrow family any more suffering.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Hamer notices, after talking to one of Bonnie and Clyde's old friends (who is now a policeman and probably hesitated to shoot them in prior confrontations) that other cops are hesitant to shoot for fear of hitting Bonnie, which is a hesitation that the Outlaw Couple has no problem exploiting to blow them all away.