It could very well be the best film of the year, if not the sleeper hit of 2016. I had the opportunity to see a press screening for the movie “Hell or High Water” this week. Going in I had no expectations but was blown away by the story and performances. It’s a modern western set in West Texas that pays homage to the locals it represents. It’s an instant classic along the lines of “Thelma and Louise” and represents what top notch filmmaking looks like.
So far this year I have yet to see a film that I walked away from saying, “Wow that was so good and the acting amazing!” Yeah we’ve had our share of blockbusters this year but with most of these films your expectations are set and rarely exceeded. In reality, many of the 2016 “blockbusters” have proven to be pretty lackluster. “Suicide Squad,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “The Legend of Tarzan,” “Jason Bourne,” and “Warcraft.”
Hell or High Water a Different Kind of Film
Hell or High Water though is a different animal in and of itself. It could be described as a western heist-crime film for a new generation. It takes the classic western heist genre and combines it with modern story telling. It is a real piece of art. The story will grab you from the first few minutes and won’t let go until the end.
David Mackenzie directs this piece by Texas screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who recently brought us the incredible film Sicario, which coincidentally I watched in the same week. In Hell or High Water he tells the story using the territory and people (characters) that you would actually find in the small West Texas towns. I should know, I lived there for the first 30 years of my life! He also was able to clue into the the dry-witted West Texas humor that is featured throughout this film.
Hell or High Water is a collision of Old and New west as two brothers, one a a straight-living divorced father trying to make a better life for his son played by Chris Pine, and the other a short-tempered ex-con with a loose trigger finger played by Ben Foster, coming together to rob banks. But this pair isn’t robbing banks for the thrill of it, there’s a method behind their actions that tells a true and deep story many in the oil fields of West Texas and Oklahoma can relate to.
Luck seems to be on their side until they find themselves in the crosshairs of a relentless and ornery Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges, looking for one last win on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their plan, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the last honest law man and a pair of brothers with nothing to live for except family collide.
The film relies on its actor parings of Chris Pines and Ben Foster as well as Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. It also makes great use of other actors for bit parts like Katy Mixon and Dale Dickey, that add tons to the film, even though their screen time is short. These little details such as a run-in with steely-nerved waitress played by Margaret Bowman, add to the authenticiy of the film. It’s decidedly a Texas story, told in the present while still clinging on the past.
My Take Away
My take away from the film, and something that I wrestled with as I watched the story unfold, is that there is no winner and there is no loser. I kept finding myself rooting for both sides of the Law. Taylor Sheridan wrote a film blurs the line between black and white. It’s exactly as Jeff Bridges described it in a recent interview with the Chicago SunTimes.
“No, what I liked about this movie is that it’s not all so cut and dried. You just never can quite figure out who are the so-called good guys and who are the bad guys. … Plus, on top of all that, I think there’s a bit of good guy and bad guy in almost everyone in this film.”
If you are going to see one film in theaters of the last few weeks of summer I would definitely pay money to check out this amazing film and believe it’s got the potential for several top award nominations.