Hell or High Water is the latest film from Scottish director David MacKenzie, whose previous work includes Young Adam, Starred Up, and Spread. The writer is Taylor Sheridan who previously wrote Sicario (which is a good sign in itself).
The film focusses on the tale of two brothers in Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine – Star Trek franchise) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster – The Program). When we meet them, they are in the process of a series of bank heists through the local area. They are being pursued by the ‘close to retirement’ Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges)
The motives of the brothers become clearer through the film but the real theme of the film is one of the state of desperation that is now being felt in the poorer areas of America with little opportunity to change their social position. Effectively ‘being poor is like a disease the passes through generations’.
Even brief moments like an interaction with a waitress are well crafted and performed that draw you in and offer glimpses into the stories of characters in the film that may only make brief appearances. To that end, it has a strong sense of reality within it.
The film plays like a tale from a Bruce Springsteen song and is powerful viewing. The performances of both leads avoid any drift into stereotypes and the performance of Bridges as the Sheriff is likewise. Its easily Pine’s best performance, and up there with Foster’s.
The film is beautifully shot across the unforgiving landscapes and the film has a lot to say. It is a huge achievement by Mackenzie and his crew. Its a form of modern day western mixed with a film noir heist movie but with as much to say about the state of the world as it has about these two men.
When guns are used, rather than a traditional western sense of testosterone fuelled shoot outs with disregard, it’s tense and uncomfortable.
What you have here is a very well written, performance and constructed story that is thought provoking and moving. I was left wanting to watch it again. It deserves recognition through the awards season and is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.