Hell or High Water (2016)
Directed by David Mackenzie • Written by Taylor Sheridan
With Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham
A collaboration between Starred Up director David Mackenze and Sicario writer, Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water is a riveting heist thriller centering on two bank-robbing brothers (Ben Foster & Chris Pine), who after the death of their mother, turn to crime in a bid to save their family ranch, all the while pursued by a retiring Texas ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his good-humoured partner (Gil Birmingham).
With two Oscar-worthy performances to its name, Mackenzie creates a genuine moment in cinema – a modern-day western that aches for the glory days of yesteryear, bloody-minded in its determination to stamp an old school sensibility on present times. The days when outlaws and thieves had a 50/50 chance of escaping the law, before security cameras and traceable banknotes. The romance of the Old West, still visible in the skies and across the beauty of the landscape, forever tarnished by technology, globalisation and banks.
Tonally akin to the Coen’s No Country for Old Men, with a bit of True Grit for good measure, the film is home to two career-best performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine, playing desperate men fighting a financial system designed to make them poor. In no small way, the overarching villains of Hell of High Water are the financial institutions, hardwired to systematically rob the people of their livelihoods. It’s part of what makes this enthralling thriller an emotionally complex study on brotherhood and family obligations.
As the one-last-job lawman, Jeff Bridges is captivating to watch, as he teases on the borders of racial banter with Gil Birmingham, who gives every bit as good as he gets. It’s a beautiful script that bolsters a memorable screen partnership of unspoken respect, deep beneath the surface of their playful lack of it.
While the busy soundtrack could be considered distracting, an intermittent smattering of whiskey-stained rock songs befit a modern western rebirth – a world in which cars and casinos have replaced horses and saloons. Hailed by many as a revitalisation, Hell or High Water strongly makes its mark, boasting all the genre character of a classic western while offering resonant observations on past and present. An absolute must-see.