Hell or High Water
Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan who pinned screenplays to “Sicario” and the former long running FX series “The Sons of Anarchy”, their new collaborative effort brings us the film “Hell or High Water” which was initially titled “Comancheria”. That name refers to the commonly used expression to describe the dry arid region of West Texas near New Mexico. Historically that area was largely occupied by the Comanche tribe before the 1860s. Now set in modern day this is where the film’s story begins.
Plot: Brothers “Toby” (Chris Pine from Star Trek) and “Tanner” (Ben Foster from 3:10 to Yuma, Alpha Dog and Phone Booth) are close knit, but like all families they are not without their problems in life. Toby is a divorced father who's trying to make a better life for his sons. His brother Tanner is an ex-convict with a bit of a temper and a loose aggressive trigger finger. But even with their occasional displays of sibling rivalry and verbal put downs there is no doubt they love each other and would do anything for one another to keep the family ranch before the bank takes it. They conclude that the only way to prevent their lost is to carefully plan a series of heists against the very bank chain that's about to foreclose on their family ranch.
Standing in their way is a Texas Ranger named Marcus (Jeff Bridges) a gruff, grizzly and gravelly talking man who’s voice alone suggest………… “Seen that, heard that, done that”. But Ranger Marcus is on the retirement clock, so before these robberies occurred he had hoped he would be on a relative smooth transition to hanging up his badge soon. But as the siblings plot their next robbery, this crafty old lawman gets re-energize by their case and is now not so ready to ride off into the sunset.
Review: Words and expressions like authentic, smart, old fashion, genuine, enormous, in the moment and out right thrilling are the initial thoughts that come to my mind. And while you may have seen several bank robbing movies before, this feels different. Mostly as a result of the writing and the acting which together makes all of these characters feel grounded and realistic in their camaraderie. And whether it is between the two brothers or their pursuers in Ranger Marcus and his partner (half Mexican – half Comanche) Ranger Alberto Parker, the words they direct to one another feel like soft poetry to the movie’s plot. Dialogue that is skillfully put to paper that captures both the real cadence and colloquial conversational rhythms of a western region without being a western tale. Instead “HoHW” is a humanistic tale where the two principle brothers are indeed doing bad things, they are not bad men. They may be wrong for breaking the law, their intentions are not evil. They may be actually criminals of the first order, they are not morally defective or without a conscious.
“HoHW” execution is just terrific from beginning to end. There are moments of real tension and anxiety as well as biting zinging humor with an appropriate amount of current social commentary. And if that wasn’t enough virtually every visual scene on the screen is breathtaking and gorgeous to look at, along with every conversational exchange memorable to listen to.
Overall this Southwest story is fresh, griping, exciting, tender and honest, as well as at times filled with genuine dramatic action and anger for the entire 1:40 minutes running time. In addition, “HoHW” delivers stellar performances all round including Chris Pine (his best work) and Jeff Bridges as the sarcastic political incorrect Texas Ranger; Oscar nominations could come both their ways. But I do hope the Academy remembers Ben Foster’s performance as the older brother. His work here as “Tanner” was simple scary good as well as “scary and good”.
I swear I wish Hollywood would make more films like this. Films that are able to take us on a thrilling ride through the grandeur of a land that seems wide, spacious and empty; seemingly almost devoid of human activity or life. But just as I found with “HoHW” upon closer examination for the few people who do actually reside in the nooks and crannies of life’s spacious places they too can have as much emotional intimacy and human appeal as any other earthly location.
No spoilers here, just in the first minute - the very first 60 seconds I knew this film would be great. You see the brothers driving up in a Blue Pontiac to rob a bank. On the street they are coming down is a bank and on the other side is a church with three black crucifixes on the wall. The church wall is in plain view even while they are in the bank. My guess, an opening moral metaphor to the film’s overall story, which is no matter how well intentioned the two brothers motives may be, they chose the side of the street that leads to temptation, which in the end haven’t we all in some way or another struggled with that same moral dilemma at some point in our own lives?
This is the best film I have seen thus far for 2016. Make a point to see it, not through Redbox or through Netflix, but in the theater. Do what you can to get there, come “Hell or High Water” see it, you’ll be glad you did.