2016 – USA
Director – David Mackenzie
Starring – Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Words – R. Topham
Two chalk and cheese brothers raised in the poverty-stricken suburbs of West Texas turn to robbing banks in pursuit of the idyll so many stories follow: a better life, but to summarise Hell or High Water like this would be downplaying the film’s tempestuous depth.
Chris Pine plays younger brother Toby, a divorcee tortured by a lack of access to his two kids, is the town’s answer to Bruce Banner, a timid but wise soul who can switch into beast mode in an instant. His older brother Tanner (Ben Foster) has already served time behind bars and seems comfortable enough with his inherent corruption to spontaneously rob banks in broad daylight with nothing but a ski mask to hide his identity.
Be it the quietly lawless, sleepy setting, or the pugnacious encounters between the central characters, writer Taylor Sheridan’s (scribe of last year’s Sicario) influence is subtle but crucial nonetheless. The dialogue doesn’t sound like it’s been botched together by writers who’ve never lived nor understood the culture they’re supposed to be portraying, as some scripts do for movies with an essential location. Yet it’s the intertwining of drama and wit that Sicario missed which contributes to Hell or High Water’s success; interactions between Marcus (Jeff Bridges), the Texas Ranger tasked with the brothers’s robbery case, and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) almost always pander to the infamously strained relationship between traditionalist white Americans of the Wild West and migrants of Comanche heritage.
As a Western/heist thriller/drama, Hell or High Water is a breath of fresh air. It knows exactly what it’s about from start to finish, doesn’t stray into unknown territory, and actually has a pool of characters strong enough to emotionally invest in. Bridges, in particular, is exceptional. He does so much by exerting so little, delivering his curt comebacks with the kind of audaciousness professional comedians spend years perfecting, and excellent comedic timing to boot. Pine also manages to finally free himself from the shackles of Captain Kirk, hinting a quiet flush of unhinged bitterness in Toby that fuels his motivation to carry out, and mastermind, these robberies with such meticulous stealth.