BRENDAN KYLE JURE
Tyler Sheridan’s Hell or High Water may only be his second credit for screen writing but he has already proven himself capable of the job after his writing debut, Sicario, which stars Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin in a violent commentary on the even more brutal cartel wars in Mexico.
Hell or High Water is a little different in its setting.
Directed by Scotsman David Mackenzie, the movie takes more of a western approach with Chris Pine (of Star Trek fame), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma) and Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) leading the charge.
It follows two bank-robbing Howard brothers, Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster), as they make their way across West Texas. Toby, the quiet yet intelligent one, hatches a plan to only take money from the register and avoid dye-backs that would come from the vault and then launder it at casinos.
The motivation is to pay off the mortgage of their recently deceased mother’s farm before it falls into foreclosure.
Adding to the value of the land was the recent discovery of oil on the property. The oil raised the property’s value to $43,000. While a dismal amount of money for oil-bearing land, Toby is desperate for cash to save the house.
Toby wants to secure the rights to the farm to give it to his sons and ex-wife so they can profit from the lucrative sale of oil. Tanner, who was just released from prison, agrees to help.
Hot on their tail are two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).
Hamilton is on the verge of retirement and indulges in some casual racism against his partner, who doesn’t seem to mind (he’s Comanche). Both of them develop an admiration for the bank-robbing duo they are chasing due to their discipline while committing the crime.
However, the hot-headed and over-enthusiastic Tanner does his own thing and everything starts to unravel.
The rolling plains of rural Texas are what make the cinematography really work in this film. Plenty of decaying farms and rusting trucks strengthen the commentary about rural communities being forgotten by the state and farmers needing to do whatever they can to protect their properties from the state.
The bank-robbing scenes are also so small and hardly choreographed that it makes it more realistic and believable compared to bank-robbing scenes in movies such as The Italian Job.
Viewers might have a problem with the pace of the movie, though. The movie’s filler is brooding scenes at casinos or scenes of languish driving that could be boring to people who don’t pay attention to the laconic dialogue.
One such scene is when the two brothers discuss hitting another branch.
“You know, you talk like we ain’t gonna get away with this,” says Toby.
“I never met nobody get away with anything… ever, you?” responds Tanner in his slow, southern drawl.
“Then why the hell did you agree to do it?”
“Because you asked, little brother,” responds Tanner, as if the answer was nothing but obvious.
The performances between the lead trio is what pulls the movie together. Stacked up to the likes of Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Denzel Washington in Fences, the three performances in this film would not be considered Oscar-worthy, but they are still profoundly impressive (Bridges was nominated for Best Supporting Actor).
Pine, who is known for playing arrogant, brash but hilarious and courageous characters, such as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, takes a step in a different direction, opting to take on the role as Toby. He plays a silent but thoughtful and serious-minded character that he hasn’t portrayed before. He pulls it off wonderfully and it may have a big impact on his career with casting directors’ eyes on him as he proves he can be a versatile actor.
Foster is always at his best when he plays twitchy, semi-psychotic and violent characters and his performance in Hell or High Water is no exception. His intense loyalty to his brother, and his anti-social behaviour makes him an uncomfortable character to watch, but his sense of humour makes him an almost likeable character.
Jeff Bridges proves his status as a Hollywood legend as he plays a lonely Ranger who strives for companionship and conversation during his last chase on the job.
It all wraps up into a neatly made movie that somehow skirted serious Oscar discussion (it had three nominations – best supporting actor, best original screenwriting and best film editing) but lined up with heavy hitters such as Manchester by the Sea, Fences, Moonlight and the weaker but very popular La La Land. It’s no surprise due to its lack of marketing and limited viewing.