- Directed by David Mackenzie
- May 16, 2016 (Cannes) / August 12, 2016 (US)
Two brothers set out robbing banks to save the family farm with a pair of Texas Rangers hot on their trail.
While Hell or High Water is not the greatest thing since sliced bread, it is rather good. It’s a fine drama with shades of The Sons of Katie Elder about strong characters and a need to do the right thing in the memory of their mother whom they may not have been the best towards. They are trying to save their mother’s property from the bank who in a legal yet underhanded way set up a situation where they would get the land that has oil underneath. On the other side we have a retiring Texas Ranger and his partner who are chasing them in as much to bring justice as to stretch out the final days of his tenure.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as brothers Toby and Tanner Howard respectively. These are brothers and self-made (by necessity) outlaws who while committing a crime do operate by a code. Their goal is to serve justice to the bank that has wronged their family the only way they can. And they have a believable brotherly bond. They are on the same side but occasionally bicker as one chafes under the other.
Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Texas Ranger Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham are the main impediment to their goal. These partners are friends but begrudgingly. Marcus gets why on some level but Alberto appears much more confused on why he is friends but still just rolls with it. Think “old married couple.”
Marcus frequently makes borderline to outright racist remarks to his partner who occasionally fires barbs right back. And it’s done in a way that only two people who are genuinely close could actually get away with. Marcus doesn’t hate his partner. He actually likes him and appears at points to even respect him. Their bond is much more complex and interesting than that of the brothers. Heck, as a pair they are just downright more interesting. It is an authentic and entertaining relationship that provides some great humor.
Hell or High Water is as much a modern Western as it is a statement on big business-in this case banks-taking advantage of the little guy. The area in which this story occurs is depressed and that often is what aids the brothers. They become mild folk heroes in a way to the people who do not really feel bad about what the brothers are doing. Witnesses are useless and mildly hostile to the Texas Rangers.
I found myself cheering for both sides in the story. Not only did I want the brothers to win but I wanted the Texas Rangers to catch them both. The characters here are that well done that you can either understand why they are doing it or that charming and likeable that you want them to succeed. That is a masterful bit of filmmaking that makes this such a great story to watch.
Nothing shown here is made to look cool. The robberies or the final shootout are nothing stylized. There is a definite attempt at realism in this movie. Nothing goes smoothly but our characters do learn. The bonds are well done and not overly saccharine by any stretch. And the resolution to the story is satisfying and plausible.
This is a great story and just amazingly directed. What could’ve been a disposable crime film about white trash facing off against cartoonish police officers becomes something more about people trying to do right by their mother and get justice in the only way they possibly can because the law is on the side of those who did the moral wrong. There are themes of loyalty, family, and fighting the future.
There is the loyalty between Marcus and Alberto as well as that between Toby and Tanner. Toby and Tanner’s actions are driven not only to avenge their mother but to ensure the prosperity of Toby’s family. Marcus is prolonging his time with Alberto as well as the investigation because he wants to avoid inevitable retirement.
Hell or High Water is a great modern Western. There are some deeper things in it coupled with fine performances in a well-done story. It’s not something for general Western fans but I will recommend it to the general moviegoer. You will like it!