Film review by Jason Day of Hell Or High Water, the crime drama about a divorced dad and his ex-con brother who hatch a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges.
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Two Texan brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) join forces after Foster is released from prison to regain their family farm before the bank forecloses on it. To do this, they rob other branches of the bank in question across the state so they can buy it back. On their tail is a gruff Ranger on the verge of retirement (Jeff Bridges) who wants to close what is his last big case.
Review, by Jason Day
Cinema can be slow to catch on to changes in the political landscape, given the time it takes to write a script, get it developed into a film and then finally market it for release.
The script for this modern western crime fable may have been written before Donald Trump’s notorious caucus speech in which he uttered anti-latino rhetoric I won’t lower myself to repeat here, but there is a fair smattering of it he may well appreciate.
“Y’all aren’t even Mexicans!” notes the customer at the first bank we see Pine and Foster hold up, resulting in a few titters from the audience.
Bridges is partnered with a half Mexican, half Native American man (Gill Birmingham), whose genetic constituency Bridges teases throughout the film with some sharp barbs. Although they are largely harmless macho badinage, they obviously hit a raw nerve. As Birmingham ramps up the retorts, the audience stops seeing the funny side.
It’s a bit of a cliche in buddy, criminals-on-the-run films such as this to have the police play out like a bickering, middle aged couple, but these actors play this expertly. Bridges’ gruff, almost incomprehensible vocal range makes it sound as if even he is embarrassed by what he comes out with, and wants to keep his comments on the low. Birmingham’s passively aggressive politeness as he proudly points out his bosses errors are an enjoyable wind-up.
This is black as pitch comedy, in a film set in the brightest, most barren of locations.
Our ‘heroes’ set off on a road-trip across the most never-endingly formless landscape, dusty billboard signs ironically highlighting their progression (“In debt?” then “Fast cash when you need it”).
Pine is a good actor and is impressive, but he is put through his paces next to Foster, who shows what a great film actor can do in the same film. He has a nervous, spiky energy to him, wrestling with the dialogue and slamming it down hard. He’s the kind of guy who will do the craziest things to help his estranged family and have sex with a girl next to his sleeping brother, extolling the virtues of her “Fuck me! Your titties!”
It isn’t enough to grow some stubble and not wash your Hollywood haircut for a day or two; Foster completely inhabits his role. To the audience, he really has just got out of prison and robbed a bank.
Cast & credits
Director: David Mackenzie. 102 mins. Film 44/OddLot/Sidney Kimmel. (15).
Producers: Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Sidney Kimmel, Julie Yorn.
Writer: Taylor Sheridan.
Camera: Giles Nuttgens.
Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis.
Sets: Tom Duffield.
Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon, Marin Ireland, John-Paul Howard.