10th Jan2017

‘Hell or High Water’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Dale Dickey, William Sterchi, Buck Taylor, Kristin Berg, Jackamoe Buzzell, Katy Mixon, Keith Meriweather, Amber Midthunder, Joe Berryman | Written by Taylor Sheridan | Directed by David Mackenzie


Two Texan brothers, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) reunite and start robbing branches of a particular bank with a plan in mind. This soon puts them on collision course with Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) an old Texas Ranger ready for retirement, who along with his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) take on the job of tracking the bank robbers.

What makes Hell or High Water so good is that it takes the old style Western and brings it to the modern era without having to sacrifice the style. Set in Texas this is the story of two bandits robbing banks, but also having a reason to do it. The bad guy here is the bank, an understandable enemy for everybody who has lived through recent years.

This is where Hell and High Water gets its hooks in. While the two brothers are set up as bad guys in the first few scenes, through the course of the movie we see their redeeming qualities. These are redeemable anti-heroes, especially Pine’s character, that we come to like and in some ways, we want to see them succeed. What makes this work is not only the strong story, but the very impressive performances by Ben Foster and Chris Pine. Especially Pine, who is at this surprising best in this film.

To make a good Western you need a John Wayne character to be “The Law” and we have that with Jeff Bridges. With movies like the True Grit remake, and even R.I.P.D. he is doing a good job of becoming the reliable but aged cowboy fighting for justice, and here again he never lets us down. His performance as Marcus Hamilton is pitch perfect.

Hell or High Water is a film that is very much about the modern climate of struggling to survive. What Taylor Sheridan’s story does though is to compare it to history, and he manages to make Texas feel like the old west in many ways. What I liked was the comparison of how the modern community are given a role of fighting against the banks, and some of the battles in America’s past. I won’t go into much detail on this, but it raises many comparisons that are thought-provoking.

What is impressive in the story is the way the banks are the enemy, and of course the setting itself. We all know what Texas represents, and the almost stereotypical nature of the state is used extremely well. This is especially the case in the bank robbery scenes with a focus on how many patrons of the bank are armed themselves, and of course the communities view on what the bank represents. This sets up perfectly a scene which puts the vigilante mob of the Old West into a modern setting. In the film world version of Texas, it just works, even in the modern setting.

When looking at who to recommend Hell or High Water to, it is a must for fans of thrillers, and of course the new wave of Westerns. The truth is though, if you are looking for a good movie this Hell or High Water will deliver on many levels. It is easy to understand why this made it onto so many best of 2016 lists, and quite rightly so. Topical, which still being old school in style, Hell or High Water shows that the Western is well and truly back.

***** 5/5

Hell or High Water is available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek


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