Film Reviews

Hell Or High Water (2016)

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Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

Director: David Mackenzie

From the Scottish director of Starred Up comes this timely film about modern America and the American Dream. The Howard brothers are robbing local banks. One is an ex con (Foster) and a live wire, the other (Pine) is a man who stayed at home and took care of his dying mother, but can’t seem to get a break in life. On the other side is the three-days-from-retirement sheriff Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Parker (Birmingham), who are on the case and determined to catch the criminals.

So in tone, this is a cops and robbers film set in the Wild West. A cowboy movie. And yet… The boys plan in robbing the bank is to get the money to pay of their deceased mothers debt, a debt to the bank that is blatantly immoral, and to get the oil from the land that should be theirs in order to make a better life, not for themselves, but for the next generation. They’re the little guy. And the cops that are chasing them are not bad guys either, they’re just on the case and enforcing the law. (Jeff Bridges is wonderful in this film, by the way).

Everyone in this film talks about the next generation, and how the world is changing. For the worse. It’s a film where a Commanche descendant is teased mercilessly for his heritage, but also points out that all the land was once his, and that the old generation don’t like that now someone is taking it from them. It’s a film where a man complains about herding cows in the new millennium, and points out that it’s the kind of work his sons turn their noses up at. It’s a film with shuttered home, people in debt, poverty, banks that are evil, and where everyone is carrying a gun and not afraid to use it. The film almost seems to take place in another time, and when some tough guys in a modern fast lime green car (not a pick up, and not in shades that blend into the landscape) they feel so out of place. They’re cockiness is soon violently put down, letting us know that whilst the Old West may not have money or shine, but they’re the strong ones, they’re still the dominant beast in the field.

It’s a film about a way of life that is dying, about poverty and having to use trickery and break the law to get what you’re owed, about the post-housing-bubble states,… I mean it’s not a message film, but while you’re watching this chase film and wondering which side you’re on, since they’re both right, you can’t help but pick up in the heavy handed messages about NOW. Don’t let that put you off seeing it, because it’s a good story and the performances, the music, the visuals that look like paintings from Andrew Wyeth or American Gothic, are all wonderful. But something about this film is kind of aggressive as well, and it’s hard to ignore, it says a lot about how America is feeling right now, I think.

See It If: you love Bridges, and westerns, or crime films. There’s a lot of great things going on in this film.

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6 thoughts on “Hell Or High Water (2016)”

  1. Watched the DVD last night, and it is indeed a fine movie. Jeff Bridges was in top form, and Chris Pine made me forget about Steve Trevor and his too-cool-for-school Kirk. But the real surprise was Ben Foster. His name was unfamiliar, but IMDB shows that he was the vicious sidekick to Russell Crowe in the 3:10 to Yuma remake. Aaaaand, furthermore, he was the hapless lead in a really really crap movie called Get Over It. I remember seeing him in that and thinking that he had a promising future flipping burgers… I got that one wrong!

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