Hell or High Water
Whilst classic Westerns generally ring with the incessant patter of gunfire, in the modern age director David Mackenzie has found space for a more incisive Texas bank robbery film, which revels in its restraint as opposed to rapid-fire action.
Shrewd realist Toby (Chris Pine) and his trigger-happy livewire of a brother Tanner (Ben Foster) plan a series of small-scale robberies. They target the bank chain that is threatening to foreclose on their family ranch, in order to pay the money owed to the very same bank. The man set to stop them is veteran ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges), who is just weeks away from retirement and determined to go out with a bang.
It quickly becomes apparent that the focused intentions of Toby (to provide security for his children) clash with the nebulous motives of his brother, an adrenaline-fuelled ex-con who is clearly thrilled just to have a gun in his hand. The incompatibility of the brothers combined with the pedestrian approach of ranger Marcus makes for a very unique and off-beat chase.
Hell or High Water does not gallop, it canters. It’s more dressage than the Grand National – intricate, calculated, and less deaths. For this reason you can really engage with both the perpetrators and the preventers, and also causes huge turning points to spring from nowhere.
And it’s funny too. Simultaneously funny and cool – an improbable combination, only achieved previously by that really popular guy at school. A scene in a small-town diner with “a rattlesnake for a waitress” is real laugh-out-loud funny, but other than that it’s pure dry, well-timed one liners, mostly delivered by an on-point Jeff Bridges. It even mocks its own credentials as a 21st century Texan bank robbery film on various occasions, roadblocking the only obvious avenue for criticism, a testament to the film’s cleverness.
Like all the old classics of the genre, the showdown is exhilarating, but in this case it’s the preceding groundwork that makes it. The relationship between the brothers and the mystery behind their lives reaches boiling point just as the film tilts into action – action that is not rushed into. Mackenzie has exposed a niche with Hell or High Water: the sedated Western. The metaphorical saloon doors are eased open, the spurs on the boots are blunt, but the result is razor sharp.
Hell or High Water is released nationwide on 26th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for Hell or High Water here: