HELL OR HIGH WATER
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon
Bank robberies always make for a good movie opening. No matter how many I see, it always strikes me as just the right kind of jolt to kick a movie into gear. Ben Foster (Six Feet Under) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) play brothers Tanner and Toby Howard, respectively. Their targets are the Texas Midlands Bank snatching the front drawer cash from each one in the area. It makes for a simpler and quicker in and out versus hitting up the vaults. Tanner is the ex-con who was recently released from jail for shooting and killing their father. As you may assume, he’s a bit reckless and sloppy when it comes to the heists. However, he’s merely along for the joy ride. This is all Toby’s idea. He owes child support to his ex-wife for their two sons. To top it off, Toby and Tanner’s mother recently died. Mortgage payments need to be paid off on her ranch, which also happens to lie on an oil bed. Toby’s not about to let her house fall into the hands of the bank. Hot on their trail are two Texas rangers. Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) is near retirement and sees this as his last big career achievement. He’s partnered with Alberto Parker (Birmingham) whose Comanche heritage doesn’t sit well with him.
In a summer full of blockbusters, sequels, comic book films, and plenty of others that just feel like rehashes, it’s refreshing to see something of a limited budget rise above those films and reign as one of the summer’s and year’s best. On the outside, it looks like just a typical type western. I thought as much throughout the beginning wondering where the hook was and how is this any different. Then it dawned on me that that is the how it’s different. We rarely see a western on the big screen anymore. It’s almost like a dying breed of a genre. One of the last main stream westerns was True Grit, also starring Jeff Bridges. 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. He also plays into the old stereotype of cowboys versus Indians regarding the back and forth partnership of agents Hamilton and Parker. No specific time frame is given to suggest that it isn’t a contemporary look at the racism that still permeates in these small towns.
Director David Mackenzie (Young Adam) has a top notch cast with no weak link among them. Ben Foster has played his fair share loose canons. Tanner Howard fits so well into that description that Foster can tap into that side of him so easily. He can let loose and make Tanner that fearless, loud, and unpredictable force of nature. Jeff Bridges also plays right into his wheelhouse. He fully embodies that aging and overweight sheriff out for one final take. He makes it so easy to hate the variety of racial slurs that come out toward his partner. Bridges has been playing these types of Southern characters his whole career, but they are roles I love seeing him in.
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 or even Into the Woods. When he tries to go outside of that it doesn’t always work out. He led the true story, The Finest Hours, earlier this year from Disney, and it was a total bomb. Ben Foster also appeared in that, and I’m glad they were able to work together again in something far better. 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.
Throughout Hell or High Water, I kept thinking that this is such a simple concept but it’s so engaging at the same time because David Mackenzie keeps it that way. There are no twists or turns, and he keeps things flowing very naturally. It’s a slow burn type of movie that leads into a very intense climax. I forgot that Texas is a concealed carry type of state, which doesn’t always bode well for our two bank robbers at any given point of the film. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis perfectly compliments the tone bringing you further into that lonesome desert feel. I’ve been disappointed in so many movies this year, but Hell or High Water is worth recommending for a wide audience. It’s more than just a western as that family bond lassos you in. Despite the A-list cast, it needs that positive word of mouth to continue bringing audiences out to the theater. There were roughly forty to fifty people in the theater when I saw it on a Saturday afternoon. My husband went and saw Sausage Party at the same time, which played to an audience of ten people. That should give you some indication of how well it’s doing.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Go see it, and I bet you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy it by the time the end credits roll.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS