After a fairly lackluster summer movie season, finally a genuinely great movie has come along to save the day. Hell Or High Water is a modern-day crime western starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster. It has been garnering huge buzz and rave reviews since its fairly low-key release in the US on August 12th. The movie is directed by David Mackenzie, a Scot whose most recent film Starred Up has gained a cult following over the last few years. It is a tour de force in direction, cinematography, acting, scoring and writing.
Lets start with the writing. The script, by actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (who also wrote last year's Sicario), is marvellous. He takes a simple plot, that of a duo of bank-robbing brothers and the aging lawman they share a date with destiny with, and imbues it with a deep well of pathos and gallows humour. The dialogue crackles, making it one of those movies that you could simply soak in and let it envelope you. The way the characters talk is just as entertaining as any of the action sequences in the film's final act.
Hell or High Water Review
Mackenzie is an artful director, who (along with cinematographer Giles Nuttgens) finds an eerie beauty in the dusty West Texas setting. The film is languidly paced, but yet also muscular and intense when it gets into gear. The opening scene is masterfully staged and paced. It is a sequence that follows a car almost 360 degrees around the mostly-deserted car park of a Texas bank before honing in on the brothers' first robbery. Mackenzie said he wanted that scene to tell the audience that his film will be ambitious and will take them on a journey. He wasn't wrong.
Mackenzie also coaxes scintillating performances out of his cast. Jeff Bridges, who could probably play an ornery Southern lawman in his sleep at this point, is magnetic. His spot-on laconic drawl makes every line a thing of bizarre beauty. His chemistry with partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) gives the film many of its best moments of comedy. These two affectionately (and sometimes not-so-affectionately) tease each other constantly. Brilliantly, though, we never believe they are anything less than the closest of friends and partners.
Chris Pine Shows Off Acting Chops
The film is also easily the best that Chris Pine has been on-screen. While he always displayed his movie-star charisma in the Star Trek films, until now he hadn't really found another role where he could display his impressive acting chops. But in this movie, his Toby is superb. He delivers a mostly internalised performance with the perfect amount of restraint and an under-the-surface calculating nature. Ben Foster is similarly great. Even though his character does fall in line with some of his other 'crazy guy' roles, he has a few scenes to show us the depth of feeling and hurt within Tanner.
The film also has something to say about the current state of the economy in the US. Mackenzie says the undercurrent of the film is about dispossession and a mistrust of institutions: namely, banks. The reason for Pine and Foster's series of robberies ties into this in a meaningful way. At one point, Pine gets a wonderful soliloquay to deliver about his family living lifetimes of poverty.
However, while the political message is there, it is never preachy. Mackenzie and Sheridan don't let it overpower the crime thriller or drama aspects of the movie. Rather, the tone is pitch-perfect throughout.
Hell or High Water
Rating - 9/10
After a fairly lackluster summer movie season, finally a genuinely great movie has come along to save the day.