Hell or High Water – 2016
Director David Mackenzie
Screenplay Taylor Sheridan
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon, Marin Ireland
“The things we do for our kids, huh?”
Two brothers seeking vengeance on a bank that tried to take everything from their mother. A Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement out for one last adventure with their partner. One wonders, not too hard, where this will end up. The first half of the film is replete with images of West Texas citizens buckling under a debt that seems insurmountable. Why is this? Don’t worry, you get plenty of chances to see.
Toby Howard (Pine) is living on his mother’s property after she has passed away. His ex-wife (Ireland) and two boys live near by, toiling in poverty for his inability to provide since he lost his job as a natural gas driller. The property is about to be reverted to the Midland Bank after a reverse mortgage and other shady dealings I could not explain to you even if I worked in the finance industry.
Toby’s brother, Tanner (Foster) has been out of prison for a year. This doesn’t dissuade him from following his brother’s plan of robbing sever Midland Bank branches to get the money they owe, pay the debt and leave it to Toby’s kids. Tanner is not the most patient person, but he’s not dumb. It’s important to know why he went to prison.
Bridges is Ranger Marcus Hamilton. He dreads the idea of retirement, if for no other reason than it will take him out of the game and away from his half-breed partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). The interactions between the two is worth the price of admission. It’s also quite interesting to see how they piece together the evidence into an educated guess as to where the robbers may strike next.
Sheridan – whose previous work on Sicario shows that he is on a higher plane – shows similar ability here. Mackenzie is best when he lets off the gas a bit and allows the viewer to come to the point instead of being thrust into it. The story is a tad heavy handed in the first act. Eventually the sentiment is dripped out in small enough doses as not to drown the viewer with good intentions. Mackenzie frames Foster and Pine a little too much like poster boys for GQ Old West. This is remedied by the time we see a wonderful sibling moment at a gas station when stopping in for a Dr. Pepper.
Toby goes in to get his brother the drink. Inexplicably, a musclehead arrives in a muscle car. The musclehead starts something from literally nothing and before Tanner lifts a finger in reaction, Toby decimates the jerk completely.
Toby’s reaction when he opens the bag is priceless.
There is not one bad move in the last two acts. Birmingham and Bridges especially make a subtly remarkable team. It’s obvious these two have shared many miles together and it would be nice to have seen more.
The end of the film goes from absolute bummer, to fist pumper to a remarkably tense stand off of a kind not seen since the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
If you don’t like Sicario, this may not appeal to you either. It is arid and somewhat hopeless, depending on what you feed off of in a story. There are not many winners and losing is leavened only with the prospect of a future showdown.