WARNING: The following review contains spoilers, I’m telling you now so you don’t pretend to be outraged later.
I’m starting to believe that Hollywood screenwriters have never actually been to Texas before. Every time Texas is depicted in a movie, you have a bunch of Yosemite Sam cartoon characters who wear cowboy hats, make some condescending remarks towards queers, and owns a Chevy pickup truck with a Cowboys logo on it. While this may be true for towns with a population in single digits, there is a much bigger world out if you go past Round Top. Then I discovered that they filmed Hell or High Water in New Mexico proving my theory that Hollywood knows nothing about Texas. This is me nitpicking little things because surprisingly there isn’t much to complain about with this film. I try to go out of my way to find smaller releases for a couple of reasons. One, these types of films tend to be the best movies of the year but they never get the promotion they deserve. Secondly, anything that gets me to not watch Pete’s Dragon is a friend in my eyes.
Hell or High Water is a story about two brothers Toby and Tanner played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. Toby being the calm level-headed brother and Tanner being the out of control wildcard you wonder how he stayed out of prison for a year in the first place. The brothers are trying to prevent the foreclosure of their mother’s property after her death. The property is sitting on oil which can net the family $50,000 a month if they can keep it but the bank wants their money by the end of the week. So the brothers go on a bank robbing spree so they can pay back the money they owe while fending off the banks.
The film is very much a take on how modern day banks screw everyday citizens out of their property. Even though the bank in this film is small there are many subtle shots at how the banking system controls many aspects of people’s lives. Toby has a lot of resentment towards the bank for trying to steal his mother’s property. Not only because the home belongs to his mom but he also has two sons that he needs to leave the house and its oil profits with. So when he comes up with a plan to pay back the bank in the money that he stole from them, it’s a brilliant plan of comeuppance that really has you rooting for them to succeed, especially if you are an anti-banker or anti-wall street type of guy. The boys cover their tracks by buying dirt cheap cars and then burying them in the dirt after they rob the banks to avoid being tracked. They then take the money to a Casino in Oklahoma so they can claim the stolen money as gambling winnings.
Meanwhile, two Texas Rangers played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are hot on their tail looking to solve the case before the brothers can strike again. Apparently, white cowboy hats and spurs are the required uniforms for Texas Rangers. Bridges plays your stereotypical Texan named Marcus who makes insensitive remarks about his Native American partner, Alberto. Marcus and Alberto spend their days taking politically incorrect jabs at each other while drinking cheap beer. They come off like an old married couple which makes for a lot of funny dialogue between the two. Bridges has difficulty accepting the fact that he is going to retire in a few weeks, so this case is his swan song into his future of sitting on porches yelling at kids to get off his lawn. The relationship between these two officers is just as important as the relationship between brothers. They do this for a reason.
Taylor Sheridan who also wrote last year’s hit Sicario once again does a great job at character development with a dark tone and slow pace. No one in this movie feels wasted, even minor characters like a teenage bank teller and a struggling mother at the diner progress the story. It is something that Sheridan’s work will get great credit for in the future. The cinematography depicts small town Texas perfectly even though it doesn’t film there. You get a great sense of how dire the situation is for these guys just by looking at their surroundings. The burning cattle fields, the rough small town look, as well as the town’s inhabitants. The effort that went into making this film look authentic is a sight to see and a lesson for those who love the neo-western genre.
Our brothers come to an end when they decide to pull off one more heist and things go south immediately. After opting to go to a bigger branch to get more money, they decide to rob the wrong bank at the worse time…payday. Now if there’s one thing you know about Texas, it’s that they love their guns and their trucks. After Tanner kills a man at the bank, all hell breaks loose they get shot at by the entire population of West Texas. After managing to escape a horde of Texans tailing them in pickups, Tanner realizes that Toby is hit and forces him to go to Oklahoma to get the rest of the money himself. Tanner then drives straight into law enforcement and makes his last stand. It is there he kills one of our favorite rangers, you guessed it, Chief Alberto. Devastated by the death of his partner, Marcus kills Tanner, putting an end to the reign of terror. Toby manages to escape while he pays the bank at the last minute. The foreclosure is canceled giving Toby ownership of the property. Toby and Marcus have one more showdown cowboy to cowboy in a greatly acted, tense scene by Bridges and Pine to put the end to a great story.
Hell or High Water is one of the best films of the year, it’s really a shame that this won’t get the mainstream recognition that it deserves. Director David Mackenzie has put himself on the map with this crime thriller, add Sheridan’s writing, there isn’t much more you can ask for a film. Ben Foster is quickly emerging as one of the best actors going right now and this is easily the best performance I’ve seen from Chris Pine. Hell or High Water is a brilliantly written cop and robber drama with a gritty style that keeps its story entertaining and down to earth. There really isn’t anything I could find to complain about and that’s never a bad thing. Go see this film while you can, nothing is going to beat it for the film of the week, and possibly the best film of the year.
OFFICIAL RATING: *****
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