Given how terrible was Army of the Dead, and many other Netflix offerings, I had been avoiding a film that I would normally watch without hesitation. I am a sucker for movies set during the 1930s, and The Highwaymen (2019) fits neatly into this category. Many a night had gone by with me scrolling through the most popular streaming service around, searching desperately for something watchable. Chalk it up to not hearing any buzz or excited recommendations from any friends for why I had not seen it until last night. Anyway, it was good enough to merit giving Netflix produced movies another shot down the road, pun intended.
Many of you will have heard of the legendary outlaws Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert), known more familiarly as simply Bonnie and Clyde. There is a more famous 1967 film about the pair that makes them and their gang out to be like a hippie commune fighting the system. In The Highwaymen, we get to learn about the lawmen who help take them down. It is an example of history happening to be a great story, and also helping to dispel some of the myth around it. By 1934, Bonnie and Clyde reached the pinnacle of their fame, supposedly robbing banks and giving money to common folk. They also ruthlessly murdered any authority figures that got in their way, as the opening scene shows them aiding a prison camp break that results in the death of a few guards. This causes the state of Texas, whose governor at the time is Miriam “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates), to reach their limit of patience with their gang’s blatant flaunting of the law. Her Department of Corrections Chief Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) proposes bringing legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) out of retirement in order to deal with their antics. The governor is against this for it had been under her administration that the Texas Rangers had been disbanded owing to their violent ways. However, such is the headache Bonnie and Clyde are causing that drastic measures seem to be in order. Thus, she gives a reluctant okay to temporarily reinstate Hamer. After agreeing to the job, his first move is to recruit his old partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson). Together, they join a multi-state and federal manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde and anyone else associated with them. Nobody gives the old-timers a chance of tracking down the outlaws, even though they have years of experience in doing so. While their age does show at moments, their instincts prove correct in picking up the trail of the gang. They stick to it as well, even though their jurisdiction ends at the Texas state line. Despite this boundary, they continue to follow Bonnie and Clyde’s movements until they are able to set up a trap for them in Louisiana. Now, technically Hamer and Gault are law enforcement officers and their first duty is to arrest the pair, and whoever else is traveling with them. The implication, though, is that the encounter will end in bloodshed. At one point, Hamer meets up with Henry Barrow (William Sadler), Clyde’s father, who tells the old Texas Ranger that his son will not be taken in by the authorities alive. Between this ominous exchange, and the veritable arsenal at the disposal of Hamer, Gault, and the members of Louisiana’s law enforcement community on hand, it is inevitable that the trap they set up will end violently. Also, if you know your history at all, you will know what comes next: Bonnie and Clyde pull up in their car, Hamer comes out with weapon in hand and orders them to “stick ‘em up!” and when they do not immediately comply, they are riddled with bullets until dead. While crowds of people gather to see the pockmarked car in which the famous outlaws died, Hamer and Gault drive off into the sunset.
It is made clear in The Highwaymen that Hamer and Gault belong to a different era of law enforcement, a time, much like the tales of the Old West, where issues were handled with a gun. To modern sensibilities, it seems barbaric. It should also be pointed out that there is a bit of dramatization in this film. However, I do appreciate the fact that it focuses on the lawmen rather than fueling the mythology that surrounds Bonnie and Clyde. The movie does this cleverly by only showing the outlaws’ faces twice, even though they are the reason Hamer and Gault are taking to the highways of Texas and surrounding states. It also does a good job of showing how not only were they viewed as heroes at the time, but they were also cold-blooded killers. Still, the Catholic in me wishes that it did not have to end as it did. God did not create us to take the lives of others, or to rob banks or carry on as their gang did. God made us to do good, and whenever you do not you are contravening His will. It does not change how much He loves us, but there are consequences for turning your back on Him. While there is still breath in our lungs, there is always the opportunity for redemption. Could Bonnie and Clyde have been reformed? Who knows? Unfortunately, they were never given the chance, and the film seems to suggest that they had little interest in doing so. I will always hope and pray that people choose to do good rather than bad.
For those who enjoy period pieces, The Highwaymen is a solid example. The problem with it, as with most movies that deal with history, is that we already know how it is going to end. Every twist and turn and near miss Hamer and Gault go through is interesting, though if this is not your kind of film I can see it being tedious. On the other hand, it also kind of works as a buddy cop movie, and through their interactions with each other Hamer and Gault turn out to be well rounded characters. Either way, it is worth a look.