Review: When their mother died, two brothers – a divorcee Toby (Chris Pine) and an ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster) – get involved in a series of bank-robbing quests, specifically against Texas Midlands Bank – the bank which threats to foreclosure the family’s ranch. Toby, the younger one, is a more motivated mastermind; meanwhile, Tanner, the self-claimed Comanche, is a man with violent tendency. What the brothers bring in Hell or High Water is poetic justice.
To minimize risks, the brothers only rob small banks and small bills to get laundered; although Tanner’s explosive behavior always gets his brother frustrated. However, bank robberies have never been a small-time crime not to attract attention. Two Texas Rangers are assigned for the case – Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) and Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an almost retired powerhouse. If anyone should be in the brothers’ way, the dodgy ol’ man is the perfect show-stopper.
Hell or High Water, despite its modern setting, has the most classic narrative trait. Slick script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) entangles familiar threads with modern twist in crafting a poignant, crowd-pleasing battle of interest – without being patronized into good vs. evil formula. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) is the one who makes this classic formula a dreadful, intense Southern crime bonanza. Dreads radiate in each plan executed by brothers; tension intensifies as the rangers get closer to the final confrontation with each party demands for justice.
Sheridan’s writing is neat in many levels: from characters, origins of conflicts and how they are related, as well as the significance of the arid, plain setting to the story. It draws many influences from modern-classic Western narrative i.e., Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Michael Mann’s Heat to Coen Brothers’ True Grit and No Country for Old Men. There’s also shade of Cormac McCarthy’s dry, pitch black comedy here and there balancing the full-tension hunt of justice – poetic or figurative.
In coherence with the strong, taut script, Jeff Bridges’ performance is a powerhouse. His portrayal of the Texas Ranger is one of the ballsiest despite his character is Bridges’ typical character (a shout to True Grit). Pine and Foster are bound by onscreen blood as they complete each other’s persona effectively. However, Foster is the strongest among two, defining the spirit of comancheria in each presence.
In the end, Hell or High Water brings classic poetic justice element into a sharp, tense modern-day crime thriller. Fueled with viable performances from Pine, Foster and Bridges, this neatly written saga is a crowd-pleasing Western that doesn’t look like one.
Hell or High Water (2016)