Somber and gripping neo-Western.
The days of the classic Western are long gone, but the essence of the genre is still captured in some films today. Whilst Hell or High Water is in many regards a heist movie, it has the somber, raw feel of a neo-Western, which brings back memories of the excellent (but different) No Country for Old Men.
Following the death of their mother, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) carry out a series of bank robberies, with the goal of saving their farm from foreclosure. However, with Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) on their tail, it’s a matter of time before something goes wrong.
The film opens with two small-time, but near perfect bank robberies. They aren’t just taking us much money as they can find – “only loose bills”. It’s a thrilling, tense opening that’s immediately engrossing. From here, I knew I was in for a treat.
David Mackenzie’s direction is flawless, effortlessly taking us through a cops and robbers tale that even in it’s most exciting moments is set against a gorgeous, serene Texan backdrop. Along with the direction, the script too is perfect, coming from Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan. Razor sharp, darkly humorous and organic, exchanges between characters, whether it’s Toby and Tanner or Marcus and his partner, never feel unnatural.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster have an excellent fraternal chemistry, boosted by two tremendous performances. Where Foster’s Tanner is more a stereotypical criminal – always wanting more, sleazy, dangerous – Pine’s Toby has a gradual development, initially seeming the reluctant brother, but instead fuelled by his past and need to support his family. The role fits Pine, who perhaps has been searching for a proper role other than Mr Kirk.
Foster gets a few laughs, but the biggest come from Jeff Bridges, who gives us a blistering, stellar performance with more depth than you may expect. Yes, he’s a sarcastic, mildly racist Texan, but the humour is covering up a real loneliness that’s plaguing his impending retirement.
Mackenzie and Sheridan could have gave us an overly simple, mindless heist drama, but instead he has offered up something much more satisfying. It’s a tense character study, that carries a real sympathy towards each character and a grudge against the banks, who are the real villains in a film about criminals.
To sum it up…
Perfectly paced and shot, faultless performances all round, an engaging script – Hell or High Water is absolutely a must-see. If I’m honest, it’s the best film I’ve seen this year. Do I smell… Oscar?
Rating: PURE DYNAMITE!
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Author: Cameron Frew