Film Review: Hell or High Water

Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are bank robbers on the run in David Mackenzie’s gripping Hell or High Water.

Ex–con Tanner is the reckless one who’s just as much in it for the thrills as he is to help out his more controlled brother. It’s Toby who’s hatched a plan that involves a series of hits on Texas Midlands banks according to a strict M.O. that involves only taking low denomination notes from tellers’ drawers, striking in the morning and non–violence.

Things go awry, of course, when one of the branches on their tight schedule has closed and the bank they hit instead is full of customers, most of whom it seems, are armed. This is Texas after all. Hot on the boys’ trail (in the most languid, patient manner possible) is near retired ranger Marcus (superb Jeff Bridges), along with his Mexican–Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham), forever on the receiving end of Marcus’s gently racist taunts.

Whilst initially many of the elements in Hell or High Water might seem familiar, there is a moral complexity beneath these grimy, sun–scorched surfaces that make this a far more humane (and even humorous) experience than what most crime thrillers offer. Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) screenplay is as taut as the strings on Warren Ellis’ violin (along with Nick Cave providing the score), setting his tale of brotherly love atop a wider treatise on modern–day American decline and the institutional greed responsible.

The cowpokes here cling as much to their diminishing ways of life as they do their guns. Things might’ve changed a lot in the 60 years since George Stevens’ epic Giant, but something in the way the brothers slink and skulk around their dusty Texan landscape very much recalled James Dean’s rags–to–riches farmhand Jett Rink. The desperation and bitterness brooding from generations of poverty every bit as real as the Stetson–laden posturing.

Rated R. Hell or High Water is in cinemas now.

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