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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Hell or High Water" is an instant classic

Aug 19, 2016 01:36AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Ben Foster and Chris Pine in Hell or High Water - © 2016 – CBS Films - Photo by Lorey Sebastian

Hell or High Water (CBS Films)

Rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.

Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Katy Mixon, Gil Birmingham, Christopher W. Garcia, Dale Dickey, Kevin Rankin, Melanie Papalia.

Written by Taylor Sheridan.

Directed by David Mackenzie.



Crime dramas usually follow a certain formula that usually concludes with bad guys getting their just desserts and good guys riding off into the sunset. As such, the underlying cinematic theme of “crime doesn’t pay” has become somewhat mundane in a world full of war, economic ruin and a pervasive lack of civility. Hell or High Water is a film that bucks this trend through a combination of several quality cinematic elements.

Chris Pine plays Toby, a divorced father trying to save his deceased mother’s Texas farm from foreclosure. He convinces his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to join him on a bank-robbing spree through west Texas that will recover the necessary funds to keep the bank from taking the farm by paying pennies on the dollar. The robbers specifically target branches of the same bank that’s scheming to take the farm. As the brothers get closer to raising all the money, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger on the brink of retirement takes the case along with his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). As the brothers near the finish of their journey, Marcus begins to figure out their next move, culminating in a bloody showdown. In the end, we’re not sure what moral can be learned from the brother’s quest, or whether Marcus will ever truly serve the cause of justice.

Hell or High Water is an excellent film. Director David Mackenzie combines a top-notch cast, splendid chemistry, beautiful cinematography (from Giles Nuttgens) and a superb script (from Taylor Sheridan) into a crime noir/western that deserves all sorts of accolades. The supporting cast of salty Texas locals is equally awesome, right down to the smaller townspeople roles, including one particular waitress that steals a scene in the middle of the film. It seems as though the casting directors plucked real country folk right off the streets of one-horse Texas towns, giving the movie a unique feel of authenticity.

All the principal acting performances are remarkable (as usual, in the case of Bridges who is equaled by Chris Pine), but Hell or High Water marks the arrival of Ben Foster as a true talent, worthy of year-end award consideration. His portrayal of the unhinged, quick-witted convict on a quest to help his beloved brother is one of the best acting performances I’ve seen this year.

If there is a true villain in Hell or High Water, it’s the bank, preying on the unfortunate farmers who lose everything in tough economic times. Such dynamics render any kind of moral to the story as incomplete, leaving the audience members to judge for themselves as to who should wear any particular shade of cowboy hat. Someone does ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie, but you’re not sure where that character is going. That’s one of the many appealing aspects of Hell or High Water, one of the best films of the year.

Hell or High Water Trailer