A stripped down neo-western, Hell Or High Water is a freewheeling and dusty affair. David Mackenzie’s cops and robbers movie plays like a ‘70s drama, with humour and drama intertwining to give a beautifully balanced piece that’s tense and heartfelt. Taylor Sheridan’s script is tight, focusing on building deep character which helps drive the simple plot. This might be set in present day, but switch cars for horses and you have a film that’s inches from away Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.
Hell Or High Water’s plot is simple: The Howard brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob a series of banks in order to keep their family land from falling into the hands of creditors. The brothers are pursued by two bickering Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham), hot on their tails and eager for justice.
At this stage in his career, nobody does grizzled quite like Jeff Bridges. His chemistry with Gil Birmingham is great and harsh banter and insults show a depth to the relationship that feels very real. Pine and Foster are also excellent as the two very different brothers. Pine in particular displays a range that has been absent from much of his big budget turns and if there was ever a time he has shown movie-star quality then it’s here. There’s a Montgomery Clift/Henry Fonda feel to his work which is really rather moving. There’s a touch of Steinbeck in the way economics runs through the narrative and the moral compass of every character spins around with social magnetism.
Great as a whole, Hell Or High Water is made up of many wonderful little moments. A fantastic couple of scenes in a diner sees the film nearly stolen a tip-loving waitress (Katy Mixon). However, a moment near the film’s climax helps show the full greatness of Jeff Bridges. Small in story by wide in scope, this modern day western is great because it’s so simple. David Mackenzie’s focused direction highlights the great performances and Taylor Sheridan’s taught script, while Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ adds an extra texture to the dustbowl world on display. Recommended.
You get over an hour of extras spread across 5 individual pieces. They’re all good – but the highlight is the 30 minute Filmmaker Q&A from an LA screening featuring Mackenzie, Bridges, Pine Foster and Birmingham.