Set in Western Texas, Hell Or High Water follows the story of two brothers named Tanner and Toby played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively. Both brothers specialize in robbing banks and do so in order to save their family farm from foreclosure. However, once they go on the run, they are pursued by a soon to be retired sheriff named Marcus Hamilton played by Jeff Bridges.
Now since the film is a bit of a road movie, it is far from a high octane thrill ride. But that is only because director David Mackenzie, who gave us the frustratingly underrated British prison drama Starred Up, focuses more on character and slowly letting the plot unfold. Thanks to Mackenzie, the writing by Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan and the actors as well, all the main characters really come to life.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster are dynamite as the two bank robbers. Pine gives his best work to date as the more reserved Toby who doesn’t seem to enjoy what he does but does it because he feels it’s the right thing to do. Foster brilliantly plays the brother who is more of a rebel and takes delight in what he does yet will go the extra mile to support his brother and his family in general.
Jeff Bridges is reliably good as the sheriff Marcus and I loved the dynamic between him and Gil Birmingham who plays his Mexican/Native American right hand man Alberto. Birmingham, in my opinion, is the film’s unsung hero as he plays the film’s true moral center whose profundity translates into comic relief and hidden anguish.
Even though the film is about robberies without a high octane feel throughout, the robbery scenes themselves are packed with suspense. My favorite one is the first one which is the film’s opening scene. When the female bank teller heads into the bank, the camera keeps lingering on her and at first, it seems like it is any normal day yet as soon as she’s about to head inside, the two brothers immediately enter the frame and the serene feel of the sequence takes a complete 180, becoming more dangerous. Also, the film opening with a robbery gives the audience an immediate idea of what kind of film they are in for.
However, while Taylor Sheridan does succeed in fleshing out his characters, I feel that the film’s weakest element is its slightly minimalist dialogue. It’s not like the movie Under The Skin where they say practically seven lines the entire movie. But because it isn’t as dialogue heavy, I wasn’t given an immediate idea of what the movie was about and why the two brothers are doing what they are doing. Although Sheridan does incorporate other successful layers into his screenplay as it is a morality tale about family that is also a road movie with some black comedy thrown in as well.
Overall, Hell Or High Water is a worthy follow-up to director David Mackenzie’s Starred Up that may not be packed with action or heavy dialogue throughout but is still a film I enjoyed every second of.
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