Hell or High Water Review – Powerful, Gripping, Smart, Four Stars

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Hell or High Water, from Lionsgate, CBS Films, Film 44 and Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, presents a smart, well written, clever contemporary cops and robbers drama that moves intensely across the West Texas plains in a race against the time.

Directed by David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster with Gil Birmingham and a cast of authentic character and supporting actors including Debrianna Mansini, Margarte Bowman, Gregory Cruz, Dale Dickey, Kristin Berg and Amber Midthunder. Hell or High Water was written by Taylor Sheridan of Sicario fame.

Hell or High Water begins quickly, in a whoosh of fast screeching tires two men, The Howard Brothers, Toby, played by Chris Pine and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, have arrived just a few minutes before the local bank of Midland Texas branch opens.

Donning ski masks the two suddenly become fugitives, forcing Elsie, played by Dale Dicky, to open the draw, taking only small unmarked bills, no ink packs and they pick up about seven grand for their troubles.

Back home at the ranch, Toby, the good son, as the story unfolds, took care of their dying mother, who recently passed away while Tanner did time in a Texas correctional facility.  

Working on a plan, the brothers move to another Midland Texas bank branch, picking up another seven or eight grand. Back at the ranch, they bury the cars, deep under the surface, not sinking in some waterhole, not burning, as the details emerge one understands this isn’t a happenstance or spur of the moment crime spree brought on by a wayward brother coercing the good son into a life of crime.

The bank robbers, small potatoes for the feds are leaving the case up to the locals and soon to retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges, and his partner, Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham. The crime has legs as the boys are traveling across the state. Hamilton and Parker take to the highway in pursuit.

Soon the two are bantering back and forth with Hamilton jabbing Parker, who is of Indian heritage, with ethnic slurs about every ten minutes or so making the three-hour trip from Lubbock to Vernon, Texas, a slow itchy crawl.  

Hamilton, suffering with pre-retirement blues, has put together a pattern and based on his forty odd years of experience explains to his unconvinced partner the boys are only hitting Midland Texas Bank Branches and narrowing the possibilities to the few remaining branches the two set up a West Texas stakeout.

What sets up the final explosive act, a glitch in the plan and the much needed cash along with a narrowing window and quickly approaching deadline, the boys break the pattern which results in over exposure.

Hell and High Water is billed as two brothers rob the bank that is about to foreclose on the family ranch. And while that seems a bit cut and dry for the depth of the plot, it does sum up the film. The idea of course is not to rob just any bank which the well thought out, smart, plan would have the debt paid for by those who held the power.

I really enjoyed Hell or High Water. It took a day for me to realize how good this film is as I inadvertently ended up at the wrong theater door and Hell or High Water had just began playing, I almost skipped my next screening and watched it again.

Hell and High Water is smartly written and well-acted. The entire Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster to the supporting players, Debrianna Mansini, Margarte Bowman, whom audiences will remember from “No Country For Old Men” Gregory Cruz, Dale Dickey, Kristin Berg, Amber Midthunder and many other give outstanding top of the game performances.

Jeff Bridges dispels ageism with his performances as he maintains both the crotchety Sheriff, maintaining an attitude allowed only with age, and the sharpshooting nerves of steel with smarts and wit to understand the criminal mind. He upholds the age is only a number adage as his mind is sharp as retirement looms.

Chris Pine manages to turn his criminal behavior to something honorable and an act of compassion. The ability to create the sympathy for a character that clearly without question participated in criminal endeavors that have long-term consequences and injury is a credit to the skill of the actor, the writing and the directing.

Ben Foster, whom audiences may not be as familiar, understands from the beginning the end and with reservation or delusion he moves the plan that benefits only the future, oddly he helps build a tree that he will never sit under, he will never feel the shade, and the audience is forgiving of him and even hopes for him, until he takes one shot too many.

Hell or High Water is a powerful film, solid, fast moving. Absorbing performances challenged only by the uncultivated vast horizon, the singularity of life against the land, never ending landscapes, the serenity or severity of life on a Texas ranch.

Hell or High Water is impressive and captivating with a few notable scenes to watch: The final scenes with Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are poised on expectation; the early bank robbery scenes, as Toby adjusts to the unusual criminal persona his brother seems to possess. The horseplay against the fading light of day, so symbolic.

Hell or High Water is a must see film! Jeff Bridges is outstanding! Chris Pine and Ben Foster have an on screen chemistry that surprises. Stand out scenes with the local tellers and waitresses who deliver compelling timely performances.

A haunting drama, Hell and High Water opens August 12, 2016 in select markets. Check local listings and streaming platforms. 

Images courtesy of Lionsgate/CBS Films asn used with permission.

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