Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water
2016. Directed by David Mackenzie
A slow burn southwestern neo noir, Hell or High Water is a character driven deconstruction of the masculine ethos and a pointed examination of the mortgage of the American soul.
Two brothers pull off a series of barely competent bank robberies in a bid to save their family's ranch. Their antics put them in the cross hairs of two Texas rangers, one whom is long past his prime and awaiting the exile of retirement.
The central quartet is what makes Hell or High Water one of the best films of the year. Chris Pine gives the strongest performance of his career as an estranged father looking to protect his children's future. Ben Foster is electric and dangerous as his felon brother who is a tempest of childhood abuse, prison victimization, and a fatalistic supplicant to the events as they transpire. Gil Birmingham supports in a soulful turn as a Native American Marshall who is pursuing the brothers. Jeff Bridges delivers a stellar performance as his partner, the old law dog facing the end of his career. Bridges' typical swagger and completely at ease performance is poised and soul crushing in the final act.
All of these performances ride on the shoulders of Taylor Sheridan's sublime script. While the dialogue is excellent, it's the undercurrent that matters, Everyone and everything in this film is used up. From the seen it all lawmen to the wholesaled real estate, Sheridan's story presents the shadow of Texas, a tarnished and rusted version of its former self. The poisoned verisimilitude of an American dream just beyond the reach of the protagonists is ever present, with a particularly striking exchange in the final scene.
Giles Nuttgens' cinematography is not only soiled and discarded, it's crisp and magnetic, pulling the viewer along side the characters as they traverse the moral battleground. The film opens with a restrained tracking shot to set the tone and never relents. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' bluesy outlaw country score clings to dusty fenders in every scene, appropriately enhancing the roiling crime story with perfection. Jake Roberts editing is another component, seamlessly blending the abrupt gun play with the soft exchanges in between. The final bullet is Malgosia Turzanska's flawless costume design. It reflects the lost cowboy theme of Sheridan's script perfectly, as everyone on screen appears as a copy of their former, brighter selves.
In theaters now Hell or High Water is a breath of fresh air in this summer's lackluster box office season. A simple, but smart tale about fathers, sons, brothers, and men that ultimately succeeds with its restraint, rather than its shine.