a film review by CatsMando
The thing about small-scoped, focused-concept films is that it has to be very mindful of the details
it place. Without any real flash or bombast, every dialogue stands out, every long scene well observed, every actions, no matter how small, is noticed. And everything about those has to have a place in the movie or else it'll be a lingering distraction that could easily ruin these type of film.
Why I'm stating this, is because this idea strongly stands out in this movie, everything seen in the
film drives something about the film, be it its narrative, its characters, their motivations, their perspectives, giving a lay of the land(its setting), driving home a theme or a point. If this film could be summed up in one word, it's "efficient".
For those still confused whether it's good or bad, here's my shortest take on it; I FUCKING LOVE THIS MOVIE. Like "Bone Tomahawk" of yesteryear, "Hell or High Water" is just fekkin' A. A very solidly-entertaining, well-written film. For me, the best companion film for it is "No Country for Old Men", it's deliberately toned down. It doesn't need to do anything particularly grand, IT IS just that instantly interesting, right from the start.
So anyway, the premise is; Brothers are financially cornered. A land inherited from their late mother is actually, in true American fashion today, not theirs. It's indebted to some bank and due for foreclosure if not settled in the coming days. So to both get a way to pay off their property's reverse mortgage, and get an additional 'screw you' on the company that holds it, they worked up a days-spanning string of robbery on multiple branches of said bank across the state. On the other side of that story are two Sheriffs trying to get the "who", "why" and "how" of the robberies, and hopefully, figuring out where the next hit could be.
The brothers are played by Ben Foster(Lone Survivor) and Chris Pine(recent Star Trek films). Ben Foster is an easy get for me, he already sold me from a lot of his previous films. He's very good at being a strongly empathetic asshole. Often his type of characters where the ones where they often do something you don't agree with, but still get an emotional pass because you very much understand why they did it. And his character here is no different. Tanner Howard(Foster) is the older sibling, prior life is incarceration from robberies. Returning to the outside world, for Tanner, time has passed him by. This is why he often takes seemingly unnecessary risks. It's apparent he believed he no longer have the opportunity to get back on track anyway, so might as well enjoy the rough trip. But as properly reinforced throughout the film, he'd do whatever it takes if it means it could help his younger brother. Toby(Pine) is a man who lived a seemingly contented life. He's divorced, but it didn't mean he'd just up and left his family, he still tries to pay off his debt towards his wife, tries to make up for loss time for his children, and teaches one of them the error of his ways, even hoping in fact that they, in anyway, not be like him. Finally, a movie where I actually liked Chris Pine! I'm never really sold at his Kirk, but here he works. A great complement to Foster's volatile character, he's actually very good being the opposite of his Star Trek character. A stoic, methodical man that strongly latches on the idea of responsibility.
Characters are just rock solid. I love it when a movie kept it's characters very consistent. I love it
when a movie knows how to really pace itself, not too fast to feel erratic and rushed, not too slow to
feel trudging and boring. It's just so right all throughout and properly complemented by well written dialogues. I love it when a film has a strong sense of place. It didn't just have a good core cast and ran away with it, it made sure that everyone else has a proper say, a strong identity. It made the setting felt lived and living.
And such a setting is important, for the other half of the story is through Sheriff Marcus Hamilton(Jeff Bridges) following whatever trail and impression from the people the siblings leave. Most of his interactions are through the townsfolk and to his partner, Alberto Parker(Gil Birmingham). And Marcus and Alberto's banters are entertaining enough alone. Always funny are the scenes where Marcus often tries to push Alberto by being deliberately racist. And the way those scenes actually worked in showing their own sense of brotherhood as the film progress is a very confident move.
The movie has some further fleshing out and more plot reveals, and the same shall be said with each character's drives, goals, and motivations. But I will not spoil it here.
It's just a very solid, efficient film. It's both a western-textured neo-noir, and a family-driven, heist movie. And what's awesome is that it is well executed. A very good craftsmanship film. 'Hell or High Water' is easily one of my most favorite movies of 2016.