Directed by David Mackenzie
2016 Crime Drama
1 hour 42 minutes
From CBS Films
Let's start with the downside of things first and just get it out of the way, shall we? There's nothing original here. It's a bank-robbing movie. You've seen them before... some were better (Bonnie and Clyde need not be worried) and you've seen them much worse. Okay we're done with this part. I have alerted you and now we'll move on.
The good news is that it's done pretty well. I would certainly consider it to be a modern-day western and we know I would like that. The robbery scenes (and there are several) are all done with tension and excitement and the violence, while there, is certainly not over the top. The requisite chase scenes are riveting and clever. It is invigorating and taut and it's always a coup when characters are as developed as some of these (and I was completely taken with how you sensed some good things about both of these bad guys). The acting, to be sure, is the icing on the cake and all four of the actors listed here were terrific.
The story concerns a pair of West Texas brothers, one a recently divorced dad who feels bad that he doesn't see his two sons any more than he does, and the other an ex-con who appears to be constantly ready to spring into rage. They are robbing banks to get the money to pay to save the family farm. They take only the smaller bills (to discourage tracing) and therefore it's going to take a number of heists to accomplish their goal.
They also rob only the branches of the bank that is holding the note on the property and it is that fact that leads a wily cop to sniff them out. He is about to retire and wants to go out on a high and he does seem to have a sixth sense about things. I kept asking myself if there's really a cop in West Texas that smart. Oh, I kid the West Texans.
Speaking of West Texas (and I must reveal that New Mexico actually stood in for the Lone Star state), it became the fifth star of the film. Every old, used, battered, dusty, bent and broken piece of person, place or thing that could be found was used here. Talk about boring and forsaken but most impressively presented.
Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster are exactly what you'd think they would be. Bridges has cornered the market on the older, cranky, slack-jawed southerner and no one is better than Ben Foster at being a fidgety psycho, let's face it. So while each was wonderful, we've seen them play these roles over and over. Capturing my attention more so was Chris Pine (aside from the obvious) because he gave us something a little different, a bit darker, off the beaten path from the usual heroes he portrays. I last reviewed Pine and Foster in another film they did together, The Finest Hours. They work off one another quite well. The fourth star was Gil Birmingham playing Bridges' exasperated partner who constantly deals with his racist humor and his pomposity.
Locals were used whenever possible and several had speaking parts lending a needed air of authenticity. An actress named Margaret Bowman had a delicious scene as a waitress at the T-Bone Cafe.
In the tradition of the Old West, there is a final scene, a long one, that I saw in the same way of watching the good guy and the bad guy meeting in the dusty street at sundown. Only thing is... this time it's cerebral. Wonderfully written by Taylor Sheridan, it gives the crusty old lawman a chance to deliciously spar with a bad guy who uses the opportunity to show his own mettle.
I have only seen one of director David McKenzie's previous short list of films, the Ewan McGregor-Tilda Swinton-starrer, Young Adam, which I very much liked. If these two films are any indication, he likes somber themes.
I expect Hell or High Water will garner some healthy receipts. It's got some crowd-pleasing aspects to it.
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