| A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.
Hell or High Water is that old-fashioned cops and robbers type story, but the execution is done so simple and to the point, making it all the more effective. Unlike other bank robbery or heists type movies, this isn’t about drugs or a larger government cover-up. It’s a family story involving the love between two brothers and the love a father has for his two sons hoping to give them a better life than the one he was handed. Writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) always keeps the family dynamic at the forefront.
There is a grim edge to the film, but it refuses to wallow in it. Instead, it is bleakly funny, fraught with little character foibles sure to get a chuckle or two out of any audience. Even in the tensest moments, there is a nevertheless a laid- back undercurrent. In large part, it’s due to how easy the three leads slip into their characters and convey decades’ worth of life and experience in their performances. It sounds odd in a gritty crime drama, but this is also a deeply funny film. The relationship between the two rangers is fantastic and there are a few moments in the film so absurd and surreal that you can’t do anything but laugh at the characters trying to adapt to the situation. It’s also the sign of a brilliant script that laughter can be turned to shock and tears in the snap of a finger.
Even though Foster and Bridges give exceptional performances, Pine slips in under the radar and gives the best performance of his career. He begs you to take notice, especially when you don’t expect that next to the other two. It’s easy for him to rely on his charm and dashing good looks in the Star Trek movies. When he tries to go outside of that it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I get the impression Pine tries too hard to shed his image and it doesn’t always work. Hell or High Water is that exception. His character, Toby, is a rugged and simple kind of guy. Pine really sticks to that and keeps that motivation of providing for his sons at the heart of his character’s journey. Toby and Tanner could easily be two stereotype characters, but Pine justifies his character’s actions throughout the entirety of the film making the audience really root for him in the end. Also, I have to say, the writing for the side characters, some of whom are only in the film for their respective scenes is even better. This is the first time I have ever cared about some random waitress who is only in the film for 90 seconds because the writing of it is masterful. Taylor Sheridan, who also makes a small cameo in the movie as a cowboy, has knocked out 2 out of 2 now and I can’t wait to see what he does next (it appears he is going to direct his next script).
The direction in this movie is flawless and really makes this movie feel authentic. This film is directed by David Mackenzie (from 2013’s ‘Starred Up’) and though you may not have heard of him before, you will after this movie. Every scene looks beautiful and crisp, complementing the setting and solidifies this as a modern day western. On top of that, Mackenzie shows his eye for action and suspense. there are moments in this film where you are on the edge of your seat and are at his mercy, waiting for the next plot twist. He structured this film in a way that you never get tired and are always enjoying this film. Basically, Mackenzie has made a huge statement here.
“You all been here for a while?”
“Long enough to watch a bank get robbed who’s been robbing me for thirty years.”
West Texas is a character unto itself with massive poverty, oil pumps on the horizon, dusty streets, rickety fences, and gun-toting citizens everywhere. Each of these elements is beautifully captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Dom Hemingway), as are the actual bank robberies and the quiet moments between brothers and Rangers partners. The cinematography captures the desolateness and sadness of the area of West Texas that the film is set in. There are also many wide shots, which looked like they were filmed with drones which also added to the beauty of the filming.
It is also worth mentioning that this movie accomplishes something that not many do: an emotional payoff through its actors and storytelling. There are some deep thematic elements here that you notice the first time you see it and stay with you. Albeit certain mannerisms in the characters or the pitch perfect ending, but this movie genuinely takes you on a journey and once you see it you feel like you just saw something special.
Hell or High Water can only be described as a masterfully directed story with on the point performances, with a great score and camera work. The film does take you back to the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men in its plain cold shell but just pure genius in filling but with the easy amusing quirks of Bridges and Foster.
‘Hell or High Water’ gets a 9.2/10.
Shot on 35's rating sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!