Hell or High Water is a familiar tale of cops and robbers, but this modern western still delivers an entertaining action thriller, a compelling social commentary, and an endearing story about brothers thanks to a well executed screenplay.
Two brothers—Toby (Chris Pine), a straight-living, divorced father trying to make a better life for his son; and Tanner (Ben Foster), a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger—come together to rob branch after branch of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. The hold-ups are part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that powerful forces beyond their control have stolen from under their feet. Vengeance seems to be theirs until they find themselves in the crosshairs of a relentless, foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last triumph on the eve of his retirement.
Make no mistake, Hell or High Water is not a wannabe McCarthy picture that’s being sold by Jeff Bridges as a passable action flick even though the trailer makes it look that way.
This modern western, even though it offers nothing new about banks, robbers and cops from a purely narrative perspective, still offers a tale worth watching because it digs deeper in the story of the criminal outlaw.
The screenplay balances action and introspection. Yes, there’s the propulsive plot of two brothers robbing banks (complete with car chases and dark comedy) with cops on their tail, but the script also spends enough time to show us the dynamic between the two pairs. Treated as individuals who just happen to be at the opposite sides of the law, this makes for a compelling social commentary.
As poor townsfolk get bled dry by banks who take advantage of their desperation, vengeance from two brothers isn’t entirely unwarranted. But the script doesn’t excuse the leads’ actions as two veterans, who do agree that a more sinister robber exist in the town, do their job.
With expository dialogue out of the way, the talented cast are able to turn their characters into relatable people. The script gives enough motivations and indications that these people have a life before the scheme. Chris Pine proves that behind his unfairly good looks he can act, Ben Foster confirms that he always could, and Jeff Bridges shows how a grizzled foul mouthed sheriff should be done. Alberto Parker provides an endearing counterpart to the sober Rooster Cogburn.
The director not only shoots tension filled action sequences that keep you engaged. He also takes the time to look around and paint a picture of the world these characters live in. More importantly, he lets the camera linger on these people so the audiences can get to know them more, even if its just two grown-up brothers teasing each other at the front porch.
In keeping with its themes, the movie ends with a moving conclusion after a sun soaked climax. Toby promises to stop by to give Marcus peace, the retired officer snaps back and says he will give it back to him. This is ultimately what elevates Hell or High Water (nitpicking aside) – its a story about people who are trying to do their best and live their lives. With superhero movies and mega million franchises filling up cinemas, we could all use a common yet grounded and compelling story.
My Rating: 9/10