Thursday, August 04, 2016

“Hell Or High Water”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new crime drama “Hell Or High Water”, starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster.


When a pair of brothers go on a bank robbery spree, can they be brought to justice by a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement?


Weeks after their mother’s death, brothers Toby and Tanner (Pine and Foster) start robbing a bunch of banks, all of which belong to the Texas Midland chain throughout West Texas.  Although it was Toby’s idea, Tanner, who has done time for bank robbery (among other things), is the mastermind behind these crimes – assuming “mastermind” is the correct word here.   The two come across as so inept and amateurish, you’d never know one of them actually had experience at this.  In spite of themselves, they manage to take in quite a haul after several jobs – something in the neighborhood of $40,000.   

After several of these jobs, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) is assigned the case along with his Native American partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), whom he mercilessly baits with racist remarks.  Despite the fact that Hamilton is literally weeks away from retirement, he desperately wants to catch these guys before hanging up his badge – one for the road, you might say.  Doing so is not going to prove easy, however – Hamilton’s having difficulty finding a pattern, much less cooperative witnesses.  Without reliable descriptions of these two men, this investigation is going to take a while – yet with nothing but retirement facing him, Hamilton is certainly in no rush. 

Finally, Hamilton’s instinct as a lawman for several decades kicks in and he surmises that their next target will be the large Texas Midland branch in Post, Texas.  As he and Alberto head there along with a fleet of their fellow Rangers, they learn the brothers have not only already hit the Post branch, but they have turned murderers, too.  When things go sour at this busy, crowded bank, Toby and Tanner wind up taking the life of a guard and a customer.  Now, the Rangers are in hot pursuit of not only thieves but killers, as well.  After the brothers split up during their getaway, Tanner chooses to directly confront the cops; being extremely well armed, he engages them in a shootout, killing one of the Rangers.  For Hamilton, this now becomes personal.  But after neutralizing Tanner, can he capture Pine?


If you tire of comic book flicks and feel you have busted enough ghosts for one summer, then perhaps it’s time for you to check out “Hell Or High Water”.  It’s a fun, gritty, wild ride while also touching on interesting themes, such as how the economy has screwed those of our society who can least afford to lose money and how some of the most predatory lenders around have been banks themselves – the ones who are supposed to be the most risk-averse and honest.  The film is bookended by some intense action and violence, but in the middle, backstory and character arc rule, giving viewers a respite from some of the shooting.

What makes “Hell Or High Water” so interesting is the artful way in which it peels away the exposition’s onion-like layers until we learn the reason why the brothers engaged in this series of felonious adventures.  Knowing the context for their crime spree perfectly sets up the magnificent ending, making it all the more satisfying.  Taking nothing away from a terrific movie such as “No Country For Old Men”, you might compare it to “Hell Or High Water” by saying it is a less dark version of “No Country”, yet it similarity deals with how a lawman from another generation sees the world around him change. 

As far as the performances are concerned, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster truly shine here; they are given the opportunity to steal just about every scene they are in because their characters are so broadly drawn – in the hands of lesser actors, their roles would have been caricatures.  With Bridges and Foster, however, they are able to discover nuances about Hamilton and Tanner that give each greater depth.  Unfortunately, Pine suffers by comparison because his Toby is essentially Tanner’s straight man; basically, Pine plays the more boring of the two, but in the end, the more human. 

Hell or High Water (2016) on IMDb

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