Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Movie Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water (2016) - Directed by David Mackenzie; Written by Taylor Sheridan; Starring Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Marin Ireland, Gil Birmingham.

By Kenny Howell

Sometimes faults are forgiven or forgotten when a movie hits so many things right.

That is definitely true of Hell or High Water, the new western/noir that sees two brothers robbing banks to save the family ranch. Despite its occasional tonal shifts that swing drastically from hard-boiled noir to comedy, Hell or High Water does those things so well that you don't notice something that could have been distracting.

Chris Pine (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Ben Foster (Kill Your Darlings) play those brothers who are desperate for cash. They are robbing small, rural banks for what we learn is an attempt to save the family land. The family has dealt with poverty all their lives, so losing the land would just continue that cycle for years to come. Pine is the more grounded, intelligent brother Toby, and the mastermind of the operation which I will leave for the viewing because it is quite clever. He calls on his brother Tanner to help him, which Tanner has no problem doing. He has been in and out of jail for various reasons over the years, including bank robbery, and would do anything for his brother.

However, the wreckless nature of Tanner starts messing with Toby's plan, and Toby must work around that to do what needs to get done. Their mistakes put a pair of Texas Rangers, played by Jeff Bridges (The Last Picture Show) and Gil Birmingham, on their tail. The ornery Marcus (Bridges) knows that the brothers are not done with their crime spree, and he is sure they will make a mistake at some point along the way. The cat and mouse game continues through West Texas as the deadline to save the ranch comes closer.

Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) wants to live in a huge gray area, and does that by establishing the world these brothers live in as a society in decline. As they travel through the abandoned and depressed towns of West Texas, there are endless billboards that advertise debt relief, or sign after sign of something that is for sale. He comes really close to laying it on thick, but holds back, letting the action of the bank robbery and the detective work carry the story, but keeping it within this world that is on the brink, or even past, collapse. The idea of oppression through power and the taking of land is very much present, and fuels the feelings you have toward the anti-heroes, all while staying very present in the background.

But that doesn't make Marcus or his partner Alberto (Birmingham) the villains by any means. Marcus is close to retirement, but unsure what to do with his retirement. He doesn't want to leave the job, but its his time. He's a great detective, and his wit and charm is part of that, as well as our liking of him. Bridges is as magnetic as ever, through a True Grit-ian drawl, and his constant ribbing of Alberto keep the story light when it could be overwhelming.

On the flip side, Foster could have been overkill, as he often can be (not necessarily in a bad way), but Pine's easy control of Toby keeps it balanced. He's really becoming one of our best leading men, and his ability to steer a narrative is just another reason that Hell or High Water is so special. It does so many things so well that you forget where it might falter. That attention to hitting those highs is astounding, and it ends up making Hell of High Water one of the best, if not the best, film of the year.

Rating: ****

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