Chris Pine Ben Foster Jeff Bridges Gil Birmingham
All the filmmakers involved in making Hell or High Water deserve high accolades. It’s a western taking place mostly in Texas, but takes a novel approach in its breadth of scale—its characterization of Texans, the depth and complexity of the characters and the actors playing them, the empathic focus on both the bank robbers and the Rangers pursuing them, social commentary, soulful tunes and soundtrack (Nick Cave, Warren Ellis), and cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) that captures the landscape as well as the intricacies of the plot. Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, I commend you for your perceptiveness and creativity in making such an intelligent and entertaining film.
Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) fit the often typical dynamics of a broken home—one brother being the “good” one that stays devoted to his mother and the other a troublemaker with a prison record. They are brought together after the mother’s death by Toby’s (the good guy) plan to re-coup funds that their mother lost to the bank for a quite legal reverse mortgage on the ranch and back taxes, which the bank paid. Toby, who is resentful about being poor all his life, is way behind on his child support payments for his two boys, learns that unless the mortgage is paid off, he will lose the ranch. There is a deadline for paying it off before the bank forecloses on it.
Toby’s plan is to enlist his brother’s help (keep in mind his brother just got out of prison for bank robbery) in robbing banks and getting just enough cash to save the ranch. This plan is conceived by a very smart person, which is to get only small bills in small amounts (can’t be traced and FBI won’t be involved), only robbing small banks early in the day.
Enter Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) and his sidekick Alberto (Birmingham). Marcus is old and getting ready to retire, and Alberto goads him about this while Marcus makes cutting remarks about Alberto being a “half-breed” (Indian/Mexican). It’s easy to see they’re both fond of one another in a manly way. Marcus likes to play the fool, but there is calculation and perceptiveness behind all his apparent foolishness. He knows people and reasons through what they’re likely to do next. Bridges may get an Oscars nom for his outstanding performance.
This is the art of Taylor Sheridan’s storytelling; he sets everything up, tells us who the characters are, and sprinkles in little surprises and wonderful humor along the way. Example: In the T-Bone Café, you’re asked about what you don’t want (vegetables), which leaves only a steak to order, and the crusty waitress knows exactly how to get you to order what will come to the table. Touches of humor like this, extended moments of tender emotions, and quick splashes of violence punctuate the story.
The film provides all the excitement you would want in resolving the outcome of the robberies and the pursuit of the perpetrators, all the while commenting on Texans’ infatuation with their guns, car chases (which are more realistically rendered than any current action movie), and the western movie genre. Keep this in mind as you watch the film: Marcus’ observation of “The things we do for our kids.”
This must be one of the most thoughtful and clever endings in the history of film, completely pulled off by two gifted actors (I won’t tell you who they are). Seeing and listening to their conversation gives us the full picture of the ethical/moral issues involved in the point of view of each. One can easily imagine that ultimately they would agree with one another. What a film!
A new connotation of “Best Western.”