Monday, 26 September 2016

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is not a dissimilar film to the Coen’s No Country with Old Men with its grizzled cop, sudden explosions of brutal violence and bleak and cynical outlook on the modern day American West where two brothers are forced to rob banks to pay off the mortgage on their ranch that the bank is about to foreclose. These two brothers are divorced dad, Toby (Chris Pine), and convicted felon, Tanner (Ben Foster), who decided to rob the banks of Texas, hot on their heels are two cops (played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). 

In a summer where the majority of movies have been, at best, watchable, it’s refreshing to see a film that is patient, nuanced and willing to take it’s time to build story and develop character’s relationships. The film’s slow pace allows you to appreciate the finer aspects of the film, such as the film’s cinematography, and it also allows you to appreciate the time dedicated to building the relationship between the brothers and the officers hunting them down.

Pine and Foster play the two brothers, one irrational and stupid, but more accustomed to life of violent crime, the other is smart and calculating, but unsuited to the criminal life, as you could tell from the panic in his eyes when raiding and bank or stopped at the roadside by state troopers.  Credit for the in-depth characterisations of the two brothers not only goes writer Tyler Sheridan (whose great screenplay is not only gripping but dryly humorous too), but Chris Pine and Ben Foster whose performances are terrific. Especially, Pine who does a superb job at showing his character's fear when committing such crimes

Despite the two contrasting personalities between the two brothers their bond, perhaps born from both having to endure an abusive father, is a strong and beautifully drawn one. One scene where they were silhouetted against the Texas backdrop and setting sun play fighting captured their relationship perfectly. It is an outstanding shot, captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. The other relationship between the state officers, Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Palmer, (a native American) is also beautifully drawn. The pair do care for each, despite Hamilton's racial jokes which Palmer takes in his stride (he even dishes it back occasionally), and Jeff Bridges is excellent in his role, even if it's a fairly typically gruff Bridges performance. 

Without these well built characters and relationships the film's most dramatic moments will have no impact but because their relationships are so wonderfully realised the film is an impactful one. The slow, beautifully measured pace drives up the tension (with the scene where Toby is stopped by State troopers being a highlight). The film isn't massively subtle at hiding who the true bad guys of the picture are with the banks being compared to the white settlers who took the Native Indian's land (but the banks are now taking the land from these white settlers). The film is clear that much of the economic hardships suffered by many, especially in the dying towns of West Texas, following the economic crash was the result of the banking industry's mismanagement.

Tense and perfectly paced, David Mackenzie's film is powered by a superb Tyler Sheridan script and great performances from his cast.


1 comment:

  1. Great review! I liked this one too, and it was never on my radar. I'm glad I watched it.