The story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s criminal exploits has captured the attention of the media and the public for almost a century, helped by the combination of outlaw living, sex and sensationalism. Such stories have almost always focused on how the pair eluded law enforcement for years while committing brazen crimes.
This week’s Netflix original The Highwaymen flips the story to focus instead on the how Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and his partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) took over the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde in what would be the final years of their spree. With governors and others embarrassed that things have gone on for so long, Hamer and Gault are the final hope to end things for once and for all.
The movie is “Based on the untold true story” according to the poster, which shows the two law enforcement agents against the Texas landscape, well-dressed and with guns at the ready for trouble. The pair are billed as “The legends who took down Bonnie and Clyde” to make sure audiences know this is about a subject they’ve likely at least heard of.
The gruff working relationship between Hamer and Gault is what we first see in the trailer before we move into how the two Texas Rangers are on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde. The crimes perpetrated by that pair are on display as the governor is pressured to catch them, a job she assigns to her two top agents. They’re always one step behind the criminals, though, much to everyone’s frustration. As they stalk the murderers, the lawmen not only jibe at each other but have to face an underworld that sees the outlaws as heroes, not villains, and are unwilling to aid those seeking to bring them to justice.
Online and Social
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Netflix usually does more paid media after the release, but I haven’t seen anything in advance.
Media and Publicity
Netflix released a first still from the movie back in December at the first time it announced a premiere date. About a month later the film was named among those screening at SXSW, an appearance that included an experiential marketing execution that allowed visitors to the venue to interact with actors, have their picture taken and buy swag.
In a nice touch, it was announced Netflix would host Arthur Penn’s groundbreaking Bonnie & Clyde beginning the first of next month, allowing subscribers to view both sides of the story.
Director John Lee Hancock was interviewed about how the project, which has been floating around for over a decade, was originally envisioned as a reunion of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Costner and Harrelson also did a few interviews here there but nothing that seemed to amount to a significant press push, so the hope appears to have been to let that SXSW stunt do most of the earned media work.
It likely says something about society as a whole that only now, after decades of celebrating Bonnie and Clyde as #squadgoals for living an outlaw lifestyle that hearkened back to the days of the Old West, we’re only now getting the cinematic version of the other side of the story. There may be a desire to no longer celebrate this kind of behavior and instead focus on the serious law enforcement officers who want to restore order to society and reign in the media from its rampant glorification of those who rob and kill for a living.
That word “serious” sums up the campaign and how the movie seems to be positioned. This is a serious story about serious people who have had it up to here with the hijinks. Costner scowls through the entire thing while Harrelson smirks, still seriously. It’s not going to appeal to everyone but for those who miss this kind of mid-level drama being available in theaters it should hit a chord.
Picking Up the Spare
The story of the movie as well as its production was covered in a featurette released by Netflix, including how the filmmakers worked hard to create period authenticity. Another focused on how this movie differs from other portrayals of the criminals’ spree.
Hancock was the subject of additional interviews where he talked about the long development of the project. Costner also shared his thoughts on Bonnie and Clyde. There were also stories about how filming at the site of the criminal’s final stand impacted the stars and more.