Review - Hell or High Water
Well, August, you've impressed me. First with Kubo and the Two Strings, then Don't Breathe (which I have not seen yet, but I'm told is fantastic) and now Hell or High Water. I hadn't even seen the trailer for this film before I decided I'd give it a shot at my local theater, which is sometimes the best way to go into a film. Hell or High Water is like a flute that you think is playing a familiar tune but every time you try to hum along, it changes abruptly. This film masterfully commands your attention for its entire duration with great, full-bodied characters and a surprisingly simple yet unpredictable plot.
Hell or High Water is a modern day western that follows two sibling bank robbers; Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster). Toby is only doing this out of desperation while Tanner is just there because it's fun. Along their path of destruction, Marcus, a Texas Marshall (Jeff Bridges) and his partner pick up their scent. You know they're going to run into each other at some point, but what happens when they do is anyone's guess.
I wasn't quite sold on this film at the beginning. At first glance Chris Pine looked a little too much like he walked off the set of a Levi's commercial and the first time you run into Jeff Bridges you instantly realize he's a modern update of Rooster Cogburn from True Grit. The only one that felt like he lived in the world right from the get-go was Ben Foster, who I'm happy to say is not playing a wizard here. Despite this, both Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges became my favorite characters. Pine gets roughed up and despite his wrongs, becomes a character that you root for in a way. Sure, Bridges channels Rooster Cogburn, but he plays a character with a surprising depth and has some of most well-written and unexpectedly hilarious dialogue I've heard all year.
Director David Mackenzie has a masterful way of shooting excellent character moments and effective nail-biting action. While I wouldn't consider this an action film; when it hits, it really hits. The majority of the action happens at both the beginning and the end of the film, leaving the middle to fully flesh out the characters and their relationships in a meaningful and consistently interesting way. I'm serious when I say that Jeff Bridges got me and the rest of the theater I was in, in stitches with some of the hilarious, seemingly off-the-cuff remarks he makes.
The story which was written by Taylor Sheriden (Sicario) carefully nudges each group of characters towards each other in a way that feels natural. What I found to be quite impressive about this film was how it got me to care about every single character. There were no dull moments to be found in this film because I was so engaged in what these characters would do next. There were plenty of times where I thought I knew where the film was going, but it pulled the rug out from underneath me, leaving me looking straight up at the ceiling with a big dopey smile on my face.
Hell or HIgh Water is also great to look at. The picture initially depicts a seemingly parched and dried-up landscape that seems starved of life, yet as you spend more time watching the film you start to notice all of the hidden colors and just like the characters you get to know, the land, too, develops a likable personality of its own.
My problems with the film are merely nitpicks. There's some unfortunate product placement littered through-out the film, usually in the form of audience-facing beer bottles and close-ups of car grills, but since they were all authentic to the territory, it didn't bother me much. I also wasn't too drawn into Toby's dilemma with his family. Every time they met up it was a bit of a drag on the pacing, even though they were necessary moments that serviced the plot well in the end. Finally, the last couple of lines in this film were a tad cliche and a little to on-the-nose. None of these problems will impede your enjoyment of this film, they're just a couple of mosquito bites during a fun-filled day at the beach.
Hell or High Water was definitely a surprise, especially considering it was released in a month that is typically relegated to last-minute blockbusters and low-budget misfires that studios are trying to sweep under the rug. I really hope this gets some attention during awards season. This film truly delivers the goods (greats) in just about every area, and is a fantastic addition to the modern western sub-genre.