Ye Mighty and Despair: A review of Hell or High Water


Two brothers, the laconic Toby (Chris Pine) and the impetuous Tanner (Ben Foster) rob a series of banks across West Texas in order to save their family ranch and are pursued across the land by grumpy old timer sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges).

A western-tinged crime drama that feels like it could have made a great miniseries the antithesis to the snow set Fargo. Hell or High Water is a solid chunk of cinema that doesn’t play fast or loose with originality but succeeds because it does what it does exceptionally well.

There’s a lot to like and whilst I didn’t love it as much as some people (I rarely love these popular dramas as much as most) it did win me over with its bravura cinematics and a selection of great performances that really sell you on the cliches.

Jeff Bridges is sullen and grumpy for most of the film but there are a few nuggets of raw emotion towards the end that really shine, slightly reminiscent of that astounding Tom Hanks performance at the end of Captain Phillips.

Pine does great as the family man simply trying to do the best for his family, as Foster simply plays up the loose cannon stereotype that threatens the whole scheme. Their relationship is played out with earnestness and delicacy and we buy their motivations, particularly in regards to their backstory.

However, in a film like this, the best character is the scenery and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens has a great handling of the beauty of the west. You get the feeling of the vastness as our leads drive from town to town, passing storms and tornados as they go.

The sun sets and rises with beauty and when the parched grass blows in the breeze you can almost feel it against your skin.

The film ties themes of American prosperity and capitalist greed to the history of the countries native population and the land giving an extra dimension to the drama. Thematically it works wonderfully and the world presented to us feels old and broken down, like everyone’s struggling to survive at the end of the Earth.

There’s also a lovely score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis which compliments the slowly unfolding action and like last years Sicario aims to provide an almost eerie backdrop to the despairing Mid-West.

Director David Mackenzie shoots everything with precision and doesn’t over do any of the humour, of which there is plenty to make the film less po-faced and he understands the importance of holding a take for maximum effect.

Its a solid, well made and fairly engaging film that does what it does well. It’s a fairly rote story and there’s very little representation when it comes to women but there’s not really a whole lot to get angry about.


Rating: B-


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