Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine & Ben Foster
Synopsis: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.
Rating: 15 Duration: 102 minutes Release date: 2 January (UK)
Despite its modern setting, Hell or High Water feels like a desperately old-school Western. The slow-burn pacing, Jeff Bridges’ cantankerous Texas Ranger and a sense of palpable tension mix well enough together to create a film that is hardly unique, but does exceed in being yet another solid addition to the crop of Westerns that have been released in the last few years.
Ben Foster and Chris Pine play brothers Tanner and Toby Howard who have run a series of well organised bank robberies across local towns in order to pay back the debt incurred on their deceased mothers land. Soon, they have Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Parker (Jeff Bridges & Gil Birmingham) hot on their heels and, as they say, the chase begins.
In a well thought out move, the plot moves along in order to build up a sense of tension between our main characters and in a move similar to Heat, our protagonists and those aiming to catch them do not meet until the films gut-wrenching finale. In the time before they finally encounter each other director David Mackenzie allows us to get to know his characters and grow sympathetic to their various woes. It’s arguably the films biggest strength, we see what has made these men who they are and while it doesn’t quite break down old mythologies about men and the Wild West, it does paint a harrowing picture of the torture some have to go through.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster succeed in convincing us these are two brothers who have gone through a lifetime of hardship and their life changing decisions bears fruit for the audience. While we are used to seeing Foster take on all manner or roles in his career, it is nice to see Pine broken down, not relying on his roguish charm or rugged good looks and is allowed to show off some of his lesser seen talents. Like a modern-day Rooster Cogburn, Bridges’ Texas Ranger scowls and mumbles his way through the film while taking pot-shots at his Comanche partner and struggles to deal with his impending retirement. His incessant pursuit of these criminal brothers is as much a procedural necessity as it is a desire to keep pressing on, even when his body is demanding he stop.
There are, of course, faults. It’s debatable whether it will find a home with younger audiences who are perhaps more concerned with superheroes, while it could be argued that only genre fans will truly appreciate what is going on here. It would be unfair though to dismiss Hell or High Water on those terms. Yes it may be old-fashioned and it may be what my Dad would call “a proper film”, but there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s good to see that old-school values can still work when needed.