Netflix’s Highwaymen Focuses on Lawmen Who Killed Bonnie & Clyde
A barrage of gunfire erupted on a country road in Bienville Parish on May 23, 1934, ending the lives of notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Much is known about the infamous lovers who met their fate that day, but little is known about the men who delivered it. The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson and Kathy Bates, premiered on Netflix March 29 giving audiences a different angle of history.
“I guess the foremost film is Bonnie and Clyde from the late ‘60s with Warren (Beatty) and Faye (Dunaway) and it’s a great movie. But it had as its subjects Bonnie and Clyde. The Highwaymen is not an anecdote to that or anything,” said director John Lee Hancock. “It’s just a cotangent movie where we put the lens in a different place and focused on two Texas Rangers that came out of retirement to hunt down and kill Bonnie and Clyde. So, it’s just putting the camera in focus in a different place. And it’s one that I thought was really interesting and a lot I didn’t know.”
In early 2018, filming for The Highwaymen began in Louisiana with one of the final stops for the project landing the cast and crew in the Shreveport-Bossier City area — the last stomping grounds for Bonnie and Clyde. Costner stars as Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and Woody Harrelson took on the role of Texas Ranger Maney Gault.
“Frank Hamer is a retired lawman who was a legendary Texas Ranger who operated in another century, the 1800s. Now it’s 1934 and they cannot seem to capture Bonnie and Clyde. Hoover and the FBI—there’s a thousand men in the field trying to capture Bonnie and Clyde and Frank Hamer was brought out of retirement, out of private security, because he’s a manhunter,” Costner said. “He gets on their trail and 102 days later he finds them and kills them in Louisiana. He’s just an individual and he has his own story.”
Actress Kim Dickens (Treme, Fear the Walking Dead) plays Frank Hamer’s wife, Gladys Hamer. When doing research for the role, Dickens said she discovered stories of Gladys Hamer that could make for a movie all on its own.
“She’s a real pistol in her own right. She’s very supportive. They’re pretty much most of each other’s lives and then he’s sort of beckoned out of retirement to chase and catch Bonnie and Clyde,” Dickens said. “I think what you’re able to see in these characters is that this is a woman who deeply loves this man and knows him so well and knows that he’s going back into a very dangerous place yet is willing to let something go that she loves so much because she knows he’s born to do it.”
The majority of filming took place around the New Orleans area and the governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge doubled as the governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas. To recreate a garden party scene at the Hamers’ residence, the crew transformed a south Shreveport farm into the couple’s house, which also is located in the Austin area along the Colorado River. The Colorado River was created using a giant blue screen, similar to a green screen. When it came time to shoot the scene where Bonnie and Clyde met their demise, Hancock and the crew kept it as authentic as possible.
“We put the lens in a different place and focused on two Texas Rangers that came out of retirement to hunt down and kill Bonnie and Clyde.”
“We shot at the exact spot where the ambush occurred, outside of Gibsland,” Hancock said. “It was very eerie. Not a lot has changed. The road has been paved now and it has yellow stripes on it and there’s more of a shoulder now then there was back then. We have tons of pictures from 1934 of the road and we were able to take it back to what it looked like back then.”
Screenwriter John Fusco began working on The Highwaymen 15 years ago, with Hancock joining the project 13 years ago. Hancock said it was really important to Fusco to be respectful of Hamer’s relatives since director Arthur Penn’s portrayal of Hamer in the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde was less than flattering, to say the least.
“Fusco, when he started, he became friendly with the family of Frank Hamer because he felt like personally, he needed their permission to tell the story because they had kind of been raked over the coals by Hollywood from Penn’s movie,” Hancock said. “They had turned him into a buffoon in that movie and there was a lawsuit filed and Warner Brothers paid out to the widow of Frank Hamer. Fusco wanted to tell the correct story and to show that Frank Hamer wasn’t what was portrayed in the ’67 movie.”
Hancock was attracted to the screenplay because the different side of the story fascinated him. He also was intrigued by the notion that Hamer and Gault had this terrible gift of hunting down and killing criminals. “I think the movie, dramatically, is very much about the burden that takes and the toll that takes on one’s soul.”
There were a few factors that made Bonnie and Clyde so difficult to capture: high-grade weapons and fast cars. When Hamer was a Texas Ranger around the turn of the 20th century, he was a cowboy catching bad guys on horseback, but his detective skills were well ahead of his time. During his 102-day manhunt for Bonnie and Clyde, he applied this talent and was able to chart their patterns.
“He’s very different than the average Ranger. He was really ahead in a way,” Costner said. “He knows they have a pattern and they’ve been doing it for three years. They go north to here and they work their way back to Texas and he just smells it.”
Dickens said Hamer borrowed his wife’s brand new Ford for the manhunt.
“Local police forces didn’t have the fastest cars. A lot of them were using their own weapons and their own cars. And they weren’t able to capture them,” she said. “Part of what Frank Hamer did was that he sort of mimicked what they were doing. He had a car that could keep up with them. He lived like they lived. He took out a bunch a weapons like they had and he basically tracked them down that way.”
The fan base that Bonnie and Clyde attracted during the early 1930s also was new. Even though the duo and their Barrow Gang were believed to be responsible for the murders of nine police officers, as well as many civilians, they were sensationalized by the public and garnered international attention. “They were young. They were flashy. They took photos of themselves with a stolen camera and then those photos were published and put in the newspapers,” Dickens adds.
That fandom is depicted in a scene where Costner’s Hamer drives by a water tower with “Go Bonnie and Clyde,” graffitied on it. Since their crime spree was during the Great Depression, Costner said a lot of people at that time were against banks and the government, including his own grandparents. “My family was against them because my grandfather put $12,000 in the bank on a Monday at about 11:45 a.m. and then that bank closed at 12 o’clock. My grandma, when she talks about that, she still hisses. She says, ‘that man knew.’ And it destroyed our family.”
Costner said the movie isn’t necessarily about setting the record straight or reinventing history — it’s about a different perspective. “We know who Bonnie and Clyde are but we don’t know who the men were that left their families and put themselves in harm’s way. So that’s our story and it’s a nice one.”
BONNIE PARKER & CLYDE BARROW TIMELINE
- April 1932 Bonnie is arrested during a failed robbery attempt in Texas.
- April 30, 1932 Clyde commits a robbery in Texas and shopkeeper J.N Bucher is killed.
- June 17, 1932 Bonnie is released from jail.
- Aug. 5, 1932 Clyde kills Deputy Eugene C. Moore in Oklahoma.
- Oct. 11, 1932 Bonnie and Clyde kill shopkeeper Howard Hall during a robbery in Texas.
- Jan. 6, 1933 Clyde kills Dallas Deputy Sheriff Malcolm Davis.
- June 1933 Clyde wrecks his car into a ravine in Texas, badly injuring Bonnie.
- July 18, 1933 The Barrow Gang checks into the Red Crown Tourist Court in Missouri.
- July 24, 1933 The Barrow Gang camps out at Dexfield Park in Iowa where citizens recognize them. Lawmen engage in a shootout with the gang and Bonnie and Clyde escape with bullet wounds to the legs.
- May 23, 1934 Bonnie and Clyde are killed in an ambush near Gibsland, LA.