Hell or High Water chronicles the tale of the Howard brothers, of West Texas—Toby (Chris Pine), who’s divorced and unemployed, and Tanner (Ben Foster), who’s fresh out of prison—are in mourning for their mother. They’re also pissed off at the Texas Midlands Bank, which will foreclose on her ranch unless they can fork over $43,000 by the end of the week. The brothers set out to raise the money by robbing a bunch of the bank’s local branches, while Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement, sets out to stop them.
This film has been egregiously overlooked by filmgoers. At its surface, it’s a modern western – full of cowboys, lawmen, bank robbers and sleepy towns. Hell or High Water is a thrillingly good movie — an exhilarating drama of crime, fear, and brotherly love that feels completely new for being so authentic.
Directed by David Mackenzie, from a script by Taylor Sheridan (who wrote “Sicario”), it’s a riveting film that fuses unconventional star power and bold storytelling. The tension builds beautifully with snappy dialogue and dramatic action sequences.
Of course, while the writing and directing are extraordinary in Hell or High Water, the performances of the three top billed actors really make this one of the year’s best films. Chris Pine has finally found a dramatic role that lets him stretch out those acting chops. His portrayal is moody and serious – completely effective and different from anything we’ve seen from him so far. Ben Foster exudes danger as the slightly unhinged and spontaneous wild-card counterpart to Pine’s straight-man. Pine and Foster genuinely convince you they’re brothers, with a punchy affectionate conflicted bond.
The third major character, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton is the real crowd-pleaser. Jeff Bridges is fantastic – carrying on with a slow-drip drawl and eating up every scene as the smartest man in the room. His Ranger is stoic for the most part, and when we do finally get momentary glimpses of emotion and trepidation, they are all the more poignant and gut-punching precisely because we’ve watched him fight so hard to maintain his crumbling exterior facade. He makes the performance seem so effortless – it’s a graceful and sincere performance.
Hell or High Water is a brilliant and broody modern western. Fraught with gripping tension, genuine performances and quietly moving moments. It’s a hidden gem amongst the awards season contenders.