Jeff Bridges finds a genuine comfort zone as Marcus Hamilton, a soon-to-be retired police officer/Texas Ranger in the dry, desolate podunk towns in this modern day Western that isn’t just a crime thriller, it’s a social commentary. “Hell or High Water” finds two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) who team up to rob a few banks in order to save a family farm. The two stay two steps ahead of Hamilton and his side kick, Alberto Parker(Gil Birmingham) and the man hunt intensifies as the motivational and psychological puzzle reveals itself.
Toby and Tanner couldn’t be any more polar opposite in personality or intelligence. Toby seems to make poor decisions, this latest one to team up with his psychologically imbalanced brother, taking the cake. Tanner’s impulsivity and thrill with the quest at times counterbalances Toby’s thoughts, but the two are brothers and blood is thicker than water. On the other side of the law are Hamilton and Parker, towo grown men who, at times, seem like brothers as well. With their goading of each other and antagonistic behavior, particularly from Hamilton as he jabs Parker with racial Mexican and Indian slurs, there’s a true sibling love hiding just beneath the craggy surface of each of these men. Their banter is at times surprising and at others, just plain juvenile, yet laugh out loud funny.
“Hell or High Water” finds a way to typify not only the poorest and most depressed areas of the flatlands of Texas, but also the gun control versus open carry laws of the land. Creating a realistic scenario that at times hits you over the head pertaining to banks and the housing crisis that is still effecting citizens, gives us a rather deep and thought-provoking tale perhaps not far removed from reality. The story is also a creative one about two sets of brothers, if you will. Each on other sides of the law, but both appear to be family, blood or not. The film is a true modern Western with varying degrees of complexity with each of the story’s layers. How the writers balance the characters with sublime skill allowing us to laugh throughout the film is mind-boggling. Obviously, the performance of the actors accompanied by skillful directing is the icing on the cake to create entertainment, tell a unique and socially relevant film, and make you laugh.
Bridges fits the role of “Hamilton” to a “t.” His unique speech pattern, slow and methodical mannerisms, and keen sense of comedic timing create a character we trust. It’s the depth of his acting, finding such intrinsic and available emotion to display, that brings “Hamilton” to life. Birmingham’s ability to convey sense and sensibility with his character of Parker, is the personality yang to Hamilton’s yin. And Foster doesn’t disappoint as the impetuously reckless brother whose hasty actions leave you with a sense of shock. Pairing Foster with Pine is pure genius as the two have a natural chemistry allowing us to imagine the two growing up together. Pine gives us an outstanding performance, allowing us to see what he is truly capable of. Not since the little known “Z for Zachariah” have I seen this level of acting from him. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely outstanding performances of Katy Mixon as the waitress in one diner and Margaret Bowman in the other “restaurant.” Individually, the two create their own special scenes worthy of laughter, applause, and awe. These are two phenomenal characters portrayed with the utmost of finesse. Now tell me, “What don’t you want.”
“Hell or High Water” is a fluid story full of surprises and intelligence in the midst of anger, bloodshed, debt, and death. It creates a story with characters that may not be all good or all bad, much in the way real life exists, but we care about them all. When you find a film that has social relevance, makes you think about current law debates, and can entertain you (and even make you laugh), you have a winner. Superb acting, directing, and cinematography give us one of the standout films of the year. How did Hollywood go right? I guess they listened to we viewers when we said what we didn’t want.
Come Hell or high water, go see this film, but be warned that it is violent in parts and it justifies its “R” rating.