Hell or High Water

Directed By: David Mackenzie

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, and Katy Mixon

August may be a poor time to catch high quality big budget blockbusters.  Jason Bourne and Suicide Squad are most certainly potent examples of this.  Still, it's an excellent time to catch great independent or low budget films.  After all, the month of August is really the preamble to awards season and the glut of prestige films on the way in the next several months.  I've seen the likes of Indignation and Southside With You this month.  One of the movies with which I'm rounding out my August just may be the best I've seen so far this year.  That's right.  I'm talking about western heist thriller Hell or High Water.  It's hellacious and brutal, but it's a damn fine film.

With the passing of his mother after a long bout with an illness, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) has inherited her home in the middle of West Texas.  While it's not some grand residence with bells and whistles, it is worth more than the average home, especially considering oil has just been recently discovered on the premises.  There's just one problem, his mother had a reverse mortgage with Texas Midlands Bank, and they're going to foreclose on the property in several days unless Toby magically finds $40,000 to pay off her debts.  To deal with this challenge, he turns to his brother Tanner (Ben Foster).  Together, Toby and Tanner rip Texas Midlands a new one by robbing several branches of loose cash and unmarked bills.  They're doing so to ultimately pay the bank back with its own money.  Their illicit activities get the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).  The Howard Brothers' robberies are a rather unpleasant distraction for Marcus from his looming retirement.

Visceral, gut-wrenching, and utterly suspenseful, Hell or High Water is most assuredly the most captivating film I've seen this year.  From start to finish, it's one hell of a wild ride for moviegoers.  Employing several cinematic devices, director David Mackenzie serves up plenty of thrills each time his leads step anywhere near a bank and plenty of times elsewhere as well.  First and foremost, he uses gritty cinematography and long camera angles to immerse moviegoers in his bleak, violent world.  Mackenzie also utilizes the sounds of bullets and screams to ratchet up the tension and suspense in one giant crescendo throughout the film.  Finally, Mackenzie leverages the backdrop of West Texas — a place where nearly every citizen young and old is armed with some kind of a gun — to create a highly combustible environment in which anything can happen at any moment.  

More than just a heist thriller set in the middle of nowhere in the Lone Star state, this compelling film layers in the decimation of small town America, the financial turmoil belying predatory lending practices, and the overt racial bias that has become a way of life for some.  Under the direction of Mackenzie, Hell or High Water accomplishes all of this and so much more.  You can see the decimation through the nuanced scenery that shows the desolate nature of small towns in West Texas.  You can feel the effects of financial ruin in a narrative that focuses on the lengths to which these characters will go to finally realize some form of personal security.  You can hear it in the rich yet colorful dialogue that exposes how bias has unfortunately fused with culture to a degree for certain characters.  Yes, Hell or High Water is an outstanding motion picture that tackles a range of subjects.  Somehow, it does so much with so little and stays under the two-hour mark in terms of its runtime.

At the center of it all, Hell or High Water features an incredibly talented ensemble doing great work.  Leading the pack, we have Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton.  While delivering plenty of racially tinged quips, Bridges gives us the perfect Texas Ranger for this movie.  He gives us a feisty old crank who brings a great deal of wisdom to the investigation and loathes the idea of retiring and being idle.  Bridges is really the southern dude here.  We also have Chris Pine as Toby Howard.  He's the level-headed one of the bank robbing duo.  Pine gives his character a certain desperation.  After all, Toby is doing whatever he can to protect his family's inheritance.  Finally, we have Ben Foster as the spontaneous Tanner Howard.  As the other Howard Brother, Foster gives us one unstable dude full of pure rage.  Crazy like a fox, he likes to commit crimes and hurt people.  Foster is able to bring out his less charming qualities quite deftly.

Hell or High Water
is one of my favorite movies of 2016.  Raw and real, this heist thriller is one bloody, violent excursion that explores the desperate measures some men are willing to take at desperate times.  David Mackenzie knocks this one out of the park.  Hell or High Water gets a sober rating.  Don't miss this one!