Hell or High Water
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham
Review By Mike DeAngelo:
A few times every year, if I’m lucky, I catch a movie that reminds me of why exactly I love movies so much. Sometimes they’re big blockbusters, sometimes they’re tiny little indies. Most often, it comes from movies that I don’t know much about or movies that I wrote off after seeing a bad trailer. Hell or High Water is neither of those – I loved the writer (Taylor Sheridan – Sicario), I enjoyed the director’s previous work (Perfect Sense, Starred Up), and I knew the cast was capable of being great. I also read the glowing reviews that had come out and liked what I saw in the trailer. Even with all of that knowledge and expectations going in, I was still floored by Hell or High Water.
If you’ve seen the trailers you know the basic plot going in - a Texas man and his brother go on a string of bank robberies when the local bank moves to foreclose on their late mother’s ranch. What makes the movie great isn’t the flashy camera work or big twists that a lot of modern hits rely upon, but rock solid, straight forward writing and outstanding performances across the board.
While the script is fairly straight forward, writer Taylor Sheridan manages to do a lot of great things all at once and with the grace of a writer who has much more than one movie under his belt. The result is a gritty modern sheriff vs outlaws western, an existential rumination on the human condition, a look at the duality of modern capitalism and small-town America, and a small but heartfelt character piece all in one. Even with all of that, it’s also one of the more genuinely funny movies of the year, with humor coming from not just one, but all of the main characters at multiple points in the film.
Director David Mackenzie knows enough to not over-stylize any of the scenes and just let the writing, setting, and acting drive the movie – leading the acting pack are Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges. While Chris Pine is traditionally known as an action hero type to most moviegoers with his hit or miss roles in Star Trek, Unstoppable, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, This Means War and The Finest Hours, he’s shown the promise of delivering some great character performances in films like Smokin’ Aces, Z for Zachariah, Stretch, and even Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. This role of a recently divorced, struggling father confirms that he’s more than capable of delivering Oscar-level performances and holding his own with the best in the business.
Ben Foster is right there with him, as he’s often shown great promise, but has made some questionable movie choices in recent years (I’m looking at you, Warcraft) – regardless, he hits the mark here as Pine’s wild criminal half-wit of a brother.
Do we even need to say that Jeff Bridges is phenomenal, heart breaking, and hilarious all at once in this movie? He’s Jeff friggin’ Bridges – it should just be assumed that he kills it as the soon-to-be retired, cantankerous old Sheriff tasked to bring down Pine & Foster.
Mix in some more outstanding supporting characters, an appropriate country music soundtrack, a timely look at a decaying small-town West Texas, and you have a movie that plays like a mixture of Heat, No Country For Old Men, and the great cops/robbers westerns of old – all while feeling decidedly modern & contemporary. Like all great films, it’s capable of making you laugh, cry, cringe, and think all in the span of a couple hours. It holds up a mirror to society while also not forgetting to entertain you in the process. Like Sheridan’s last film Sicario, I can’t recommend this movie enough. If it’s playing in your area come Friday, seek it out. You won’t regret it….and if you do, I just don’t get you, man….
OVERALL SCORE: 10/10 West Texas Accents and Dusty Roads