Review | ‘Hell or High Water’
- Well-defined, relatable characters
- Very intense and gratifying final act
- The consistent humor is a pleasant surprise
- Top-notch performances from the main cast
- The film's "message" may not resonate with everyone
- The pacing could be slow for some
- The brutality, although rare, may turn many off
- The dialogue in parts could offend certain audiences
Backed by overwhelmingly positive reviews, hopes were high for Hell or High Water. It’s been a while since the last truly memorable western in film’s modern era. No Country for Old Men is the most recent example that comes to mind, and that was 9 years ago. Audiences awaited another high quality, realistic take on the genre, in which Hell or High Water definitely delivers.
Masterfully written by Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water brings more than one expects. Sheridan scripted the dialogue to feel authentic. He also sprinkles in a surprising amount of humor. As with Sheridan’s writing debut, Sicario, Sheridan then deals an exhilarating final act. High Water‘s story structure is nothing short of flawless.
This writing is brought to life by the stellar cast. Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively play bank-robbing brothers Toby and Tanner Howard. You’ll find out quickly that these two actors belong on screen together. Their chemistry is palpable and relatable, yet their personalities could not be more contrasting. Pine is the more grounded, noble character. Foster is the loose cannon, as he is known to act very well (Alpha Dog).
Conversely, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play Texas rangers hot on the Howard’s tail. Their equally-relatable and even amusing chemistry is astonishing for a western drama. Bridges’ character, Marcus, often playfully roasts Gil’s character, Alberto, which can possibly offend some. Although, Alberto surely dishes it back, hence you feel the strong bond between these rangers.
Furthermore, you’ll notice the environment’s exuberance as well. Sheridan purposefully wrote the story in a small town of an open-carry state. The most minor character serves an indelible purpose. The movie’s local militia shows their dedication to protecting the town. Sheridan himself appears as a struggling ranch hand. Even the lifelong steakhouse waitress gives a monologue which represents the lack of change in area. The smallest of acting parts matter.
The story of Hell or High Water immediately places the Howard brothers in a compromising position. Even without seeing their faces, you can tell one brother is reluctant to rob banks, while the other lives for it. Contrarily, when we first visit our two Texas rangers, both are coasting by on dull work. The elder ranger, Marcus, is on the verge of retirement. Both the brothers and the rangers seem to subconsciously yearn for excitement.
You may feel a sense of justice as you discover the brothers’ reasoning behind the robberies. Obviously you will have a problem with any violent methods used to obtain said justice, so mixed feelings will exist. As with the characters, this movie puts your beliefs in a compromising position.
Other moving parts contribute to the cohesive final product. Musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) enhance High Water‘s tone with original country tunes. Director David Mackenzie captures the Texas plains and tense moments beautifully. Nevertheless, the pacing may drag for the unfamiliar. Westerns are known for the slow-burn pacing most of all. This movie is no different. However, when the action picks up, it is thrilling, unflinching, and shocking.
Hell or High Water builds tension in a modern-era western that we haven’t seen in almost a decade. As a result of Sheridan’s writing prowess and top-notch performances, we’re given the best film characters so far all year. If you’re fortunate enough to have High Water playing in your city, you should feel obligated to see it. You will connect to these characters and their stories in ways you didn’t anticipate, making this movie an absolute “must-see.”