Hell or High Water (Movie) written by Taylor Sheridan; directed by David Mackenzie; starring Jeff Bridges,
Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Dale Dickey
In this Neo-Western, two brothers are robbing small town banks in west Texas. But these two aren’t much like Butchy
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No glamour about our guys. They have little experience at this sort of thing, although the older
one has done jail time.
The reason for the robberies? The brothers are trying to scrape together enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage that
their mother was forced to take out on the farm before she died. Otherwise, they’ll lose the farm. The younger brother
hopes to leave it to his two sons whom he rarely sees because they live with their mother. Those details and other glimpses
of the robbers' lives – the two of them cooking breakfast, for instance – help us not to see them
as despicable desperadoes.
We get similar humanizing touches in the case of the sherriff, played by Jeff Bridges, who’s on their trail. He's
within weeks of his retirement and he’s an overweight geezer who wheezes and sweats when he’s pursuing bad guys.When
his deputy (Gil Birmingham) comes into the office with the details on the latest robbery, the sherriff isn’t paying
much attention, so the deputy asks: "You wanna hear about this robbery or you gonna just sit there and let Alzheimer’s
run its course?" While staking out a bank that they think will be the robbers’ next target, the sherriff and deputy
are forced to spend a night in a small town motel. That raises the question of what they should watch on tv in the evening,
and that leads to a fascinating exchange on the place of religion in each man’s life. At times, I thought the sherriff’s
racist taunting of his deputy (he’s aboriginal) was overdone, even though the script has the two men joking about the
Every character in the movie has the same quality of individuality and originality – whether the person is a jittery
bank teller or a sullen teenager. One of the most amusing cameos I’ve ever seen comes from a waitress who approaches
customers with this novel greeting: "What don’t you want?"
Not suprisingly, the movie offers some great country and western music and the bleak, sun-drenched beauty of the tiny towns
and the countryside is photographed magnificently. (You have to wonder whether the shot of a horse tethered outside a store
is a joking nod to the traditional western.) The highlight – for me – is the scene that shows the two brothers
play fighting against the background of a sunset on the vast prairie. The moment has the feel of genuinely affectionate interaction;
it looks like something that might well have happened spontaneously between the two actors.
Subtitles to translate the actors’ drawling would have helped at times. However, Ben Foster has exactly the
kind of coiled, hardness – without exaggeration – that you’d expect from the jailbird brother. Chris Pine
is credible as the somewhat more idealistic one, his good looks sufficiently blurred by grime and stubble. That
makes for too much of a contrast in the final scene, where his character’s all cleaned up and shining like the typical
Hollywood glamour puss. But the tentative, inconclusive ending of the movie hits just the right tone.