Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham
Runtime: 102 minutes
Release date: September 9th
A tale as old as time, or at least as old as America, Hell or High Water follows two brothers, Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) embarking on a string of bank robberies across West Texas, while a veteran ranger nearing retirement (Bridges) doggedly pursues them. Originally titled Comancheria, for an area of Texas previously occupied by Native Americans, Hell or High Water manages to twist familiar Western tropes around a modern story of restless displacement and financial austerity to captivating effect.
The film is based on a phenomenal script, well-structured and seasoned with dark humour, from Tyler Sheridan, which was #1 on the famous Black List of unpublished screenplays in 2012. Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario and was previously best-known for playing a minor character inSons of Anarchy, is emerging as one to watch for his neat, terse storytelling which can be embellished to taste, which is hugely welcome in an era of needlessly overblown dross.
Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) does occasionally flourish this with some rather on-the-nose mise-en-scéne, or linger too long to belabour a thematic point — a waitress begrudging the police for taking her $200 tip from the bank robbers as evidence is a little grating and unnecessary. But generally, the film is beautifully presented, with music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis providing spry accompaniment to the fluid, capable camerawork from Giles Nuttgens, presenting a well-paced yet contemplative view of the action as well as our surprisingly evenly-matched leading actors. Chris Pine is a damned revelation in this, a haunted, reluctant foil to Ben Foster’s gung-ho ex-con, and the two are perfectly believable as fraternal opposites brutally, yet cooly, justifying the means to their end. Foster especially has developed into a strong character actor in recent years and if he steps into leading roles of this calibre more often, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a massive star. Jeff Bridges is reliable as ever, but embodies his role as Ranger Marcus Hamilton especially beautifully here, with his reaction to a climactic moment — a number of moments, really — in the film perfectly-pitched between the character’s larger-than-life persona and susceptibility to his own mortality and human frailty.
This is a key, melancholic concern of the Western, and Hell or High Water is an exemplary love letter to this genre, while acknowledging the ways in which it has and is moving on. Tightly-structured and performance-driven, it’s one of the year’s best dramas to date. See it… come Hell or High Water. (Sorry.)