How Accurate Is 'The Highwaymen'? The Historical Netflix Film Doesn't Glamorize Bonnie & Clyde
When it comes to high profile feature films on streaming platforms, Netflix is king. On Mar. 29, the streaming giant launched The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, the two Texas Rangers who caught the infamous Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. When the film was released, Netflix described the film as an "untold true story." Naturally, fans have been questioning how accurate The Highwayman really is. While the movie does deviate from what happened in real life, The Highwayman is more historically accurate than Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde.
You've probably heard of Bonnie and Clyde. But chances are, you associate with them as the ultimate "ride or die" couple. The truth is, popular culture has played a huge part in the America's view of Bonnie and Clyde, from the 1967 film to a song by Taylor Swift. The Highwaymen challenges the romanticized image of Bonnie and Clyde by dehumanizing the outlaws and focusing on the rangers who caught and killed them.
In an interview with Vanity Fair prior to the film's release, director John Lee Hancock revealed his appreciation for the fresh take in the script written by screenwriter John Fusco.
“Every time I read it again, I was enthused,” Hancock said. “I’m a huge fan of Arthur Penn’s film. But I was taken by Fusco’s attention to the other side of the story. Not in a combative way — but I just thought, he’s putting the lens somewhere else. I also appreciate his conceit at not really getting a good look at Bonnie and Clyde until the end. It took away the mythology.”
Speaking to Time, historians Jeff Guinn, who wrote biographies about Bonnie and Clyde, and Jody Ginn, a professor of history who consulted writers on the film, admitted that The Highwaymen isn't entirely historically accurate. The publication pointed out a few minor discrepancies within the film, including the opening scene. While the film showed the Barrows staging the breakout at Eastham jail, it was actually devised by Raymond Hamilton, with Clyde merely serving as the getaway car.
There were also a few changes within the characters. Guinn explained that The Highwaymen's portrayal of Bonnie, who was "particularly violent" in the film, was likely incorrect. “Bonnie did not grab guns and lay down covering fire ever. She simply did not,” Guinn said.
Meanwhile, in The Highwaymen, Hamer is back for one last job and struggles to get back in the game, even incapable of shooting a bottle out of the air. Per Time, Hamer was off the force for merely two years when he began his hunt for Bonnie and Clyde. The publication also points out that Gault, Hamer's partner, was "inflated for dramatic effect." Although he was part of the group that took Bonnie and Clyde down, Ginn revealed that "the Maney Gault character is a composite character."
In an interview with USA Today, Fusco revealed that the scene in Arcadia, Louisiana where the beaten car was taken to the morgue following the shootout and death of Bonnie and Clyde, was more horrific than what was shown on screen.
According to the publication, the mobbing crowd was accurate. However, Fusco revealed, "It was even more macabre than it's shown on-screen. People tried to cut off Clyde's trigger finger, they were dabbing blood off Bonnie, trying to cut her hair. It was a horrible scene that really weighed on Hamer."
That being said, Hancock felt that the scene was important to be shown onscreen. "In a grotesque way, they wanted a piece of these two, dead or alive," Hancock said. "It's the closing chapter on the cult of celebrity surrounding Bonnie and Clyde, which hits a little too close to home in today’s world."
Regardless of the discrepancies in The Highwaymen, the historians interviewed by Time "didn't mind those deviations" in comparison to the challenge the film puts up against popular beliefs about Bonnie and Clyde.
“They don’t romanticize Bonnie and Clyde," Ginn said. "That’s been the biggest problem in popular media. If seeing the Netflix film not only entertains people but makes them actively seek out more information, then I think it’s probably a good thing."
The Highwaymen is now streaming on Netflix.