Hell Or High Water Review
It starts on a bright morning in Texas. A bank teller (Dale Dickey) is opening up the bank for the day when two masked hoodlum's follow her in with guns in her side, ready to rob the place. The hoodlums are brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) and they aren't your average bank robbers. The only take the money from the bank's registers, nothing higher than $20 and then they are out. Why not go for the money in the safe you say? Because that money has trackers, easy to catch those who take it. They then drive back to their family ranch and bury the getaway car in the ground.
This is the beginning of a chain of events that kicks off "Hell or High Water," a gritty and grimy cops-and-robbers thriller that ended up being the summer's best film. What makes a good summer movie? Does it have to be littered with special effects? Does it have to be full of zany one-liners? (Even though "Hell or High Water" does have plenty of those), does it have to have the top actors working in the business? I would say no. Good movies and great movies can come out at any season of the year. It doesn't matter how much money they cost and it doesn't matter who stars in them. What matters to me comes down to the simplest of things; character, story and theme. "Hell Or High Water" is a master-stroke on all three of those items that make great movies so special.
Toby and Tanner aren't your average bank robbers. They are targeting a specific set of banks for a specific reasons. These robberies put them on course with Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a no-nonsense, old-school style Texas Ranger. Marcus has a partner named Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who will help him catch the crooks. The entire movie is this tense slow burn until the moment Toby and Tanner meet Ranger Hamilton and Ranger Parker. We know they are going to confront one another, we just don't know when. That tense unease casts a shadow over the entire movie. I also have to applaud how the film plays by the normal rules of thrillers, while also shattering them. No easy feat. When the slow burn style movie works, it can be a hell of a good time. That is exactly what "Hell Or High Water" is as a movie.
What shocked me is how funny most of the movie is. "Hell or High Water" is also an astounding example of a movie that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because you never know when you should be laughing or when you shouldn't be. There is a scene where Toby protects his brother Tanner from some young punk. All the while Tanner is cracking jokes about it. Should we be laughing as somebody is getting mercilessly beaten? Even if he did kind of deserve it? Should we laugh at Ranger Hamilton's old fashioned style and how he can't help put insult Ranger Parker's Native American and Mexican American heritage? It is equally impossible to make a dark movie, fill it with bad people the audience has to care about, then get us to laugh at their rough behavior.
What makes all of this work is the tremendous power of the actors. Chris Pine and Ben Foster do absolutely remarkable work together. They almost come off as actual brothers. Ben Foster in particular sticks out here. Foster is a pro at playing these psychotic fiends, and Tanner is no different. He's a dangerous man with a wicked sense of humor and an enjoyment to hurt people. The perfect match between actor and character. The work done by Bridges and Birmingham is equally profound, and they share the same type of brotherly connection that Pine and Foster share. It is amazing work by both pairs of actors. They are complimented by the subtle work of the supporting cast, which includes Katy Mixon, Kevin Rankin and Marin Ireland.
What's also amazing is how well the movie buries its characters and story in its theme. Some people may find this outplayed by now, but this film is essentially a reaction to the financial crisis and recession that followed. Just as much as 9/11 took a huge affect on the movies that came a few years after the incident, whether they were major or minor releases, the financial crisis has had the same affect. The movie isn't subtle about its theme, but it never jams it down your throat either. It perfectly compliments the movie we are seeing.
"Hell Or High Water" is definitely rough around the edges, but its easily the best movie you can find at a theater near you right now. If you like watching great actors collide on-screen. If you have a taste for cops-and-robbers, thrillers and film noir. If you don't mind a good, old slow burn. Then "Hell or High Water" is for you. A wonderful way to end the summer movie season.
FINAL GRADE: A+