Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Highwaymen

Go To

The Highwaymen is a 2019 crime film released by Netflix.

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

No relation to Highwaymen.


  • 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?"
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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.
  • Cool Guns: The scene where Hamer purchases all of the guns is an idea to how easy it was to obtain automatic weapons during the pre-National Firearms Act Depression era (barring, of course, being able to afford them). Hamer especially favors a Colt Monitor (a "civilian" version of the Browning Automatic Rifle with a big compensator) as a long gun after buying it, and even showcases how destructive it is on both a "No Trespassing" sign and Bonnie and Clyde.
  • 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.

    It's actually downplayed a lot in the film making Hamer seem like a mellow guy who just wants to live quietly. The real-life Hamer was pretty notorious for the kind of thing you'd expect from a Cowboy Cop. An example was him threatening a Texas State Representative, José Tomás Canales, who was investigating the Texas Rangers for allegations of abuse. Hamer's reputation, and threats, were considered serious enough that fellow Representatives escorted Canales to the hearings for protection.
  • 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.
  • The Faceless: Bonnie and Clyde are never shown up-close until their death scene, adding to their mystique. 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).
  • 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: Eventually, Bonnie and Clyde will be 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, and that the only reason he wasn't charged with murder was because the man he killed was already a wanted criminal.
  • 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 those two were bloodthirsty murderers.
  • 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 unluck 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:
  • 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 this rule.
  • 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, albeit from the perspective of the policemen who put together the ambush.
    • This is the usual fate of police officer faced by the couple, as they use BAR 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.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag: A lot of jokes are made about Gault's age and his constant need to go to toilet. He eventually ends up confronted by three hoodlums inside one and beats them into submission while taking literal piss at them.
  • 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.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To Bonnie and Clyde and other films that glamorized the Outlaw Couple pair by depicting them as free-spirited Loveable 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.
  • Sudden Humility: A gas station attendant arrogantly tells Hamer and Gault that he admires Bonnie & Clyde and won't help them. Hamer then tells him in graphic detail about the innocent police officer the two outlaws just killed and about that officer's now-destitute family, and makes it clear (via a cocked gun) that he will consider the attendant a willing accomplice if he doesn't spill what he knows. The attendant quickly complies.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 mean he's marked for death. He just begs Hamer to end it already to spare the rest of the Barrow family any more suffering.


Example of: