Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan, who previously gave us an excellent script in Sicario, Hell or High Water is about brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) who start robbing small-town banks in order to pay the mortgage on their late mother’s ranch and for Toby to make sure that his children are well provided for. Perusing them is soon-to-be-retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).
There are only a handful of characters in Hell or High Water and they are all brought to life excellently. Chris Pine is definitely maturing as an actor (also evidenced by Star Trek Beyond) and he delivers a solid, confident, mature performance as Toby, “the smart brother”. Equally as good is Ben Foster (who I had completely forgotten was in 2007’s 3: 10 to Yuma – I immediately thought “Of course he was in that! He was awesome!); as the more unpredictable and dangerous Tanner, he is a charismatic screen presence and injects a certain zeal and panache to the proceedings. Both Pine and Foster have great chemistry together and as (utterly believable) brothers, they deliver heart and soul to the story.
Then of course there’s Jeff Bridges on fine mumbling form as perusing lawman Marcus Hamilton who’s neither hero nor villain; he is ideally cast as the close to retirement ranger and he is both humorous and dangerous. In addition, Gil Birmingham is wonderful as Bridges’ partner, the butt of Hamilton’s casually racist barbs. The relationship between these two characters is just as excellently developed as that of the two brothers and as such, there is great heart and soul there.
Oh, and Margaret Bowman threatens to steal the whole show from everyone as a “rattlesnake of a waitress” – DO NOT order the trout!
Taylor Sheridan once again delivers a particularly laudable script with well developed characters and thoughtful ideas. The overwhelming theme is that of poverty as a sickness as well as the banks making money while everyone else struggles to make ends meet; most of the characters seem to hate the banks, not minding at all if they’re robbed. The film also presents the idea that the world is inevitably changing, that this is indeed “no country for old men”. There is one scene where the rangers run into a group of men herding cattle, to which Jeff Bridges remarks “these boys are alone”; this certainly seems to particularly reinforce the idea that “the old west is dying” and scenes such as this give the film a certain melancholy, lamenting on a bygone age. There is also humour to be found throughout and it fits in perfectly.
This is a definite “slow burner” of a film, yet it moves along smoothly and is never boring. Action scenes are used sparingly and only when necessary; much of the film focuses on character and story and this is very refreshing to see. Hell or High Water is also brilliantly shot (inevitably featuring beautiful scenes with characters staring longingly off into the sunset!) and Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is a perfect accompaniment.
A thoughtful, meditative, well written film with excellent central performances.
★ ★ ★ ★