Hell or High Water
Directed by David Mackenzie
Written by Taylor Sheridan
Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham
Review by Jordan
For Eddie’s take click HERE
It’s difficult to gauge the main intent of David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water, a Texan heist thriller with western blood pumping through its veins that presents landscapes left desolate by the changing face of oppression.
Is its story of recently reunited brothers Toby and Tanner systematically robbing banks for a measurement of justice aimed as an indictment on these places, with their façade of offering wealth disguising the insurmountable debt that threatens to break the back of blue-collar Americans? Or, does it wish to explore an audiences willingness to empathise with criminals over law enforcement, even when effort is made to humanise the officers and Tanner in particular would freely antagonise and traumatise innocent people? Both matters are explored in a manner evocative of the lawless plains, where, as a deputy here mentions, it’s a dangerous job these men do, and they’re lucky if they make it to the end.
It might be worth risking your life for your brother, a better life for your sons or forgiveness for past indiscretions, and it’s this rebellion-tinged recklessness and endeavour that endear cowboys to an audience over sheriffs, especially when the law serves to protect society and establishment, even the thieves that rob in plain daylight. Hell or High Water is a finely crafted thriller, and its themes are of interest and depth; they don’t however carry it to any grand heights previously unexplored in films of this type.
Reunited after Tanner’s release from prison and the death of their mother, both Chris Pine and Ben Foster offer strong performances as siblings who rely on each other’s differences for strength in adversity. One is self-destructive and violent, but with a love for his brother strong enough to hold out letting go of restraint for a time, and the other self-loathing and sad, finding motivation in the prospect of changing the fortunes of a family now knowingly out of his grasp. They show vulnerability sparingly, but enough to prove their connection. As the officer tracking them down, Jeff Bridges is allowed to shape a character more out of touch with the tone of the film; he acts with conviction, but the wry comedy and physical presence he brings simply feel misplaced.
The deliberate pacing of Hell or High Water, made memorable by the differing character motivations and accompanying fates, creates a study of justice and how its often hollow that is never uninteresting, but fails to fully explore the ideas it presents.