Movie Review: Hell or High Water
Director: David Mackenzie
Reviewed: 26 February 2017
A flat-out stark masterpiece. I just cannot talk about how much I love this film. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play Toby and Tanner Howard, two brothers hell-bent on outfoxing the law and the bank that foreclosed on their dying mother's family farm. They craft an audacious plan to repay Texas Midland Bank with their own stolen money to get the family farm back, and the propulsion of the plot comes from the ticking clock of the payments due. Texas Ranger Marcus played by Jeff Bridges and his partner Alberto played Gil Birmingham are in pursuit. One brother is laconic and quiet; the other, a firecracker. As for the law, one man contemplates the end of his career and what it all meant; the other, the remainder of his time in this service. The collision is inevitable, but Mackenzie steers us towards all kinds of fun and suspense before reaching the point of impact. A diner conversation with a waitress; a casino to launder large amounts of money; a surprising reversal with some Texans who witness a crime and decide to do something about it; a painful conversation between a father and a son, tinged with regret; a violent last stand.
Mackenzie's confidence here extends into all aspects of the filmmaking: the soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is pitch perfect; the achingly beautiful long shots of the Texas horizon; the robberies themselves with their energy and danger; the quiet, perfect ending to the film which suggests a conversation can sometimes be more powerful than a violent shoot-out. Pine and Foster are fantastic in these roles, with Foster probably narrowly missing the Oscar nomination that went to Bridges. Hell or High Water's economic and political undercurrents speak for our times as well; we root for these criminals in part because we believe the bankers and corporations to be the bigger criminals. And maybe the Texas Rangers see that as well and have to do their jobs just the same. The abandoned storefronts and businesses that litter the landscape here provide their own counterpoint to this dark reclamation of the American Dream. As the Coen Brothers in another West Texas masterpiece remind us, "There are no clean getaways," but the Howard Brothers decide it is worth risking it all to have a chance to end up on top. It will not be clean.