I think it’s fair to say that 2016 has been a sub-standard year for movies so far. There’s been numerous highly anticipated movies that have been major disappointments (BvS, X-Men: Apocalypse, Jason Bourne), so when a film comes along with no considerable hype attached to it and it proves to be fantastic – we are left pleasantly surprised. Mackenzie’s fabulous Hell or High Water is a prime example of this.
Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers, one a divorced father and the other an ex-con, who go on a series of armed robberies in West Texas in order to save the existence of a ranch that they co-own. The brothers in question are played by the wonderful Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who are hunted down by local rangers portrayed by the equally brilliant duo of Kevin Bridges and Gil Birmingham. If you’re not sold already hold on to your horses.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster are perfect in this movie. They are two completely different people with contrasting personalities, one smart driven by the motive to fend for his divorced wife and children, the other being stupid who’s only really involved in the burglaries to cause chaos. Nevertheless, both Pine and Foster deliver mature and sublime performances that make exceptionally easy viewing. Their on-screen chemistry is shown throughout the movie, and their often toxic relationship maintains its strength through the unconditional love that they have for each other, something that the movie did an excellent job in demonstrating. This brotherly relationship was paralleled alongside the partnership of Marcus and Gilberto, who as mentioned before are played by Bridges and Birmingham. Once again these two are also very different, shown through the consistent ‘teasing’ between the two characters. There’s some heartfelt scenes in this movie that do an excellent job in making us feel invested in these characters, which help later on in the narrative when we are forced to feel saddened by the events that eventually unfold.
What I loved most about this movie, though, is how accurate it depicts a civilisation that is plagued by financial crises and bank takeovers and the outstanding effect this has on the characters, and especially on the brothers. The Texas-based setting on show is both authentic and visually stunning, shown through the gorgeous cinematography that the film has on display, and also the fantastic soundtrack running throughout the entirety of the movie. This is a film that is grounded in reality, helped by the absence of any obvious product placements and the inclusion of authentic costumes and dialogue. The writing is perfect, there’s no two-ways about it. Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan brings forth some immaculate dialogue and exchanges between the characters in the movie, my favourite being “I’ve been working here since nineteen and eighty-seven. Ain’t nobody ever ordered nothing but a T-Bone steak and baked potato. Except one time, this asshole from New York ordered a trout. We ain’t got no goddamned trout.” Not only are these exchanges humorous and entertaining they most importantly feel genuine and unforced, something that I believe is paramount to good screen-writing.
When watching the movie you’d think it’s set in the American Old West era, but interestingly enough it’s actually set in modern day. We become so invested in the gritty Texas setting on offer that when we are shown an iPhone or an asshole hanging out of his sports car window at a gas station we are taken aback. These scenes stick out like a sore thumb in the movie and make us aware of the societies that are held back in the avalanche of modern, technological advancements that so many of us take for granted. If anything, Hell or High Water inspires viewers to throw out their overpaid iPhone’s and migrate on over to West Texas and sit on a porch drinking a few beers with t’boys, soaking in the hot climate.
When we are normally faced with a good guys vs bad guys narrative we are often forced to side with the good guys, and who could blame us, right? But what this movie does excellently is make us question who we are actually rooting for. The good guys, being the rangers who seek to put an end to the series of robberies, have every right to do what they do. Yet, we can’t help but sympathise with the bad guys, aka. the Tanner brothers, perhaps more-so Toby as he’s the smart one. We see both sides of the goose chase and we are equally invested in both pairs, so when the dramatic denouement comes along it feels ballsy. We aren’t happy that, SPOILER ALERT, Tanner dies or Toby gets away with it, nor are we happy that Bridges loses his partner. We are torn about how we feel and that, for me, is so much better than a happy-ever-after ending that carries no emotional weight to its narrative.
A Truly Marvellous Film!
Hell or High Water has a perfect synergy of humour, emotion and brotherly love and is told through perfect pacing. It’s a gradual tale-of-events that keep us attached throughout its entirety due to the gorgeous scenery, genuine dialogue and interesting characters that are on offer. This movie is, without a doubt, this year’s best release so far.