Hell or High Water didn’t get the attention it deserved when it was out. But now it’s getting some notice by the awards people, so I thought I’d give my take. (Mainstream Chick’s take is at the bottom of this post. We both liked it a lot!) It has a great cast – Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, and Ben Foster. It’s a fairly simple story, very well told. Two teams are playing a cat and mouse game with each other. Brothers Tony and Tanner (Pine and Foster) are small time bank robbers. Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Birmingham) are on their tail as they knock over branches of the Texas Midlands Bank. Tanner has a record, but Tony is doing it all for his young sons. And Hamilton is about to retire, so he wants that last good case. It’s a very human story that’s humorous, sad, and action packed.
Hamilton is weary and looking at entering a quiet retirement, but this case gets under his skin. His relationship with his partner is teasing and mean and yet warm. Alberto is half-Mexican and half-Comanche, which Hamilton never lets him forget, throwing racist taunts at him continuously, finding them funny, even if Alberto doesn’t. But there is also a respect, which as longtime friends and partners, goes deep. Toby and Tanner are the classic good brother/bad brother duo. Where Toby is robbing banks to trying to make sure that he leaves something for the sons he’s left with his ex, Tanner is just a thief and pretty good at it, but he’s willing to help his brother, because it’s all about saving the family farm from being repossessed. It’s a West Texas thriller as Hamilton and Birmingham try to get inside the heads of the robbing brothers, and the brothers stay just a step ahead of them.
The look of the film is gritty, populated with wide-open, desolate spaces, lending Hell or High Water a man-against-nature vibe. The script is classic and strong, and the characters incredibly well draw and complex, though they’re all fairly simple men. And the actors are to the last one perfect. Jeff Bridges may have a shot at some of the big awards, but so could any of them, especially Ben Foster. It is a thoroughly entertaining ride and I highly recommend it.
Mainstream Chick’s take: And now for something completely different – and surprisingly good: Hell or High Water. It’s a poignant and entertaining modern western that takes place in Texas and Oklahoma. It’s a bit of everything – drama, action, dark comedy. A stellar cast totally sells this one. It’s about two West Texas brothers, Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who set out to rob several branches of the bank that is foreclosing on their family land. Toby is motivated by a desire to provide a better life for his kids; Tanner is an ex-con who simply likes to live dangerously. Together, they aren’t exactly your typical bank robbers, and that shows, especially when the brothers encounter a bank in Texas where the locals take their concealed-weapons laws very seriously. The result is a scene that is funny, scary, and certainly timely. Meantime, on the brothers’ trail: a foul-mouthed Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) on the brink of retirement, and his half-Indian, half-Mexican partner (Gil Birmingham). Like the brothers, the relationship of the law partners is complicated. Watching Hell or High Water is kind of like sitting on the sidelines of a slow-speed chase with cops and robbers. The ultimate showdown is compelling. For the faint of heart, there are a few shocking moments of violence, but for the most part, they are fleeting and service the story well. I liked Hell or High Water a heck of a lot more than No Country for Old Men, though the two films have a somewhat similar vibe. If you’re looking for good story, good acting, multi-layered characters, and a dash of wit, then Hell or High Water is the way to go.