Film Review – Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is not just another bank robber film. It has to be one of the most enjoyable films of the year. It is this weird blend of crime thriller and comedy. It boasts great writing and directing mixing with the actors and local color making for one of the more unique films that will have you saying, “Damn, that was a good film.”
Hell or High Water follows four main characters. Two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), rob the local banks in West Texas. This attracts the attention of a Texas Ranger close to retirement, Marcus (Jeff Bridges), and he drags his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) along for the chase. This is not a story of the good guys versus the bad guys; that line is blurred in the case of the brothers. Tanner has been to jail, shooting his own father for abusing his mother, and is classically the bad brother, the one up to no good. Toby has his own problems as the family ranch is about to be sold out from beneath him due bad loans taken out by their now deceased mother. He also owes his ex-wife child support for his two sons. Taking all of this together, Toby planted the seed in Tanner’s mind to rob banks to get out of his money problems. Considering how low key the robberies are and other oddities of the brothers’ plan, this case has become interesting and perplexing to Marcus and he is determined to catch them in the act.
The setting of West Texas is a character itself in the film. The small, rural towns with not much going on, lots of broken down homes, dead grass, unforgiving landscapes, and throwing in the billboards about debts, paying bills, and cash advances sets the tone and the atmosphere for the film. The one savior of the landscape is the promise of oil being found on your land because the drought is not doing much for crops or raising cattle. If you know anything about rural Texas is that the people love their guns and considering you can open carry your guns makes this an interesting conundrum for the brothers and maybe something they did not think through entirely. Having such a setting with not much going on also lends itself to focusing more on the characters than the world around them.
What makes Hell or High Water enjoyable, aside from the story, is the comedic element. This is definitely not a straight drama and it leans on the humor of country Texans and good ole boys to lighten the mood. Most of the humor comes from the interactions of Marcus and Alberto, with Marcus teasing Alberto on his Mexican and Native American roots. A hilarious scene deals with an older waitress who pretty much stole it away from Jeff Bridges. This would be a different film entirely if it was a straight, serious, crime thriller. Credit needs to be given to the script writer, Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), and the actors (and any improvisation) for making this film stand apart from others in this genre.
While the setting and the lighter moments benefit it, it still is a damn good robbery film. It has some ingenious elements that make it smarter and keeps the audience guessing. Through the whole film, you know these two pairs of men are going to eventually converge. The entire film is leading up to the moment and when the final act starts the tension and anxiety is ramped up considerably, and it still has some surprises in store.
Hell or High Water is a film that I highly recommend and one that I would love to see again. The talent involved, from the director David Mackenzie to small parts played by Dale Dickey and Katy Mixon, combined with the setting and the script, all worked together to create a perfect storm that made one hell of a film. The trailer paints the film as a crime thriller, but it is much more than that. Skip the “blockbusters” and go see Hell or High Water. You will not be disappointed.