This film came out at the end of summer 2016 and without much fanfare steadily entertained audiences. Just as quietly when the Oscar nominations were read out in January it found itself earning a few – Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role (Jeff Bridges), Film Editing, and Writing (Original Screenplay). Not bad for a small film that has earned just over $26 million at the box offices. Definitely a dark dark horse for any of the awards, but still…
Two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster – Warcraft: The Beginning, Contraband) and Toby (Chris Pine – Into the Woods, Star Trek Into Darkness), begin a bank robbery spree in Texas. The robberies are small. Thousands in small bills from the drawers are all that are taken. Because of this the FBI is not interested in the case. Ranger Hamilton (Jeff Bridges – Iron Man, The Big Lebowski), an older man who is very near retirement, and his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham – The Space Between Us, The Lone Ranger), take on the investigation.
One brother (Tanner) has a criminal record and just got out of jail a year ago. The other was taking care of their dying mother during this time. Toby, the younger brother, is divorced with a couple of sons. He hasn’t seen them in a while as he owes a lot in child support. The family farm has fallen on hard times and there is a high probability they will lose it. The bank is planning on foreclosing on it. Out of this desperation the plan to rob banks was created. The plan is to hold up Texas Midland (ironically the very bank with the lien on their family property) for small amounts only taking what they need to save the farm.
Tanner takes more risks and doesn’t always follow the plan. This deviation screws things up for the brothers and brings the heat on their tails. After one unplanned robbery goes very wrong the brothers separate and only one comes out alive.
Small, gritty films like this allow actors who have been somewhat pigeonholed to show their range. Chris Pine has made a career out of doing action films like the Star Trek series, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, This Means War, Unstoppable, and Smokin’ Aces. In between those action films he has attempted to branch out and do different things like what he did with Into the Woods (he can sing!), Just My Luck (teen romance flick), Blind Dating (romantic comedy), Carriers (horror), and People Like Us (drama). He has stepped away from what is expected of him again with Hell or High Water. He proves that he can handle a modern day Western type film/role. He plays the straight man to his character’s wild brother. A measured performance is demanded and delivered.
No new territory is breached by Jeff Bridges. This is the type of character we have seen him play several times over the course of his lengthy and impressively varied career. Foul-mouthed and crotchety is how to best describe Ranger Hamilton. It doesn’t matter that we have seen him do this all before as he is so good at it. He did something like this in the remake of True Grit and now does that type of character with a more modern twist. You don’t even hate the old curmudgeon when he is totally racist towards his Native American partner.
Besides the solid acting by the three main actors, every detail has been paid attention to by director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Perfect Sense), which is interesting as he is Scottish not American. Rural Texas is aptly depicted in the film. From the dirty jeans to the ever present cowboy hats and the amount of large trucks driven, it all lends to the atmosphere. Plus you get small towns, greasy food diners, everyone carrying a gun, a lot of blowing dust, and loads of country music played throughout the film.
Lots of the credit for this gem has to go to screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario). Only two films into his writing career he has shown a deftness with gritty stories that don’t rely on dialogue. His films are violent, but still appealing. Also shows a knack for tucking in small moments of humour so the whole thing doesn’t get too heavy. What he does best is trim all sort of fat out of a story. There are no wasted moments or time filler scenes. Sheridan just gets down to business.
- Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water” Featurette
- “Visualizing the Heart of America” Featurette
- “Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water” Featurette
- Red Carpet Premiere
- Filmmaker Q&A