It’s unlikely that you’ll see a movie that more blatantly screams Texas the way Hell or High Water does. It’s a carefully plotted, cops and robbers heist flick with a surprising amount of depth that has all the sensibilities of neo-western, with a bit of Coen Brothers and Justified thrown in for good measure.
Set against the dusty mid-Texas backdrop, the film follows the story of Toby Howard (Chris Pine) who is desperate to stop the Texas Midlands bank from foreclosing on his family ranch. He enlists his loose-cannon of a brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to help him rob a string of Midlands branches. By stealing small bills and switching them out at a casino after every heist, Toby hopes to avoid detection and hold onto the property long enough to cash in on its wealth of newly discovered oil.
There is alot to like about Hell or High Water. For one thing, Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan and director David Mackenzie make a great team. Sheridan does a really good job creating characters we can sympathize with even though they are on the opposite side of the law and make us truly care for their journey. The interactions between Ben Foster & Chris Pine and even Jeff Bridges and his partner Alberto played by Gil Birmingham are the emotional backbone of the film, that are leveled by the wicked sense of humor this film also has. While Mackenzie, who previously directed the fantastic prison drama Starred Up, brings a really grounded and personal feel to the story that few other directors could. The bigger, more action packed scenes are really well-staged and you can truly feel the stakes, especially when it comes to the final showdown.
I think the performances are really, really good aswell. I know, many people are probably growing tired of the crazy Ben Foster character he plays so often these days, but his performance as Tanner really works here and is a nice contrast to the more pragmatic and restrained Toby played by Pine, who’s just as good.
But though, they both are pretty good, they’re often outshined by Jeff Bridges hardened, wiseguy Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton on his last job before retirement, who looks like he might have just walked out of a Coen Brothers movie. Bridges finds that perfect balance between being funny and laid-back and being that hard-nosed cop determined at bringing the two brothers to justice, which is what makes his performance a treat to watch. And watching him throw playful, jokey slurs at his partner make for some of the funniest moments of the film.
If there’s anything that holds the film back it’s the ‘one last job’ story at the center of the film, which makes things somewhat predictable. In many ways, I knew where this movie was headed but credit to Mackenzie and Sheridan for building a truly engaging story around that, where the stakes are intimate but worth caring for.