REVIEW: Hell or High Water (2016)

Theatrical Release Poster - CBS Films; Lionsgate

Theatrical Release Poster – CBS Films; Lionsgate

The following is a review of Hell or High Water – directed by David Mackenzie.

Former actor Taylor Sheridan – a WGA Award-nominated screenwriter – is beginning to make quite a name for himself. 2015’s Sicario, which Sheridan also wrote, was easily one of the best films of that year, and now, with Hell or High Water, he may have outdone himself. At the very least, I believe director David Mackenzie has made one of the best neowestern films that I’ve ever seen out of Sheridan’s original script.

Now, I do think No Country for Old Men is a better film, but I think Hell or High Water will be much more fun to rewatch than the aforementioned Coen Brothers masterpiece. As rewatchable as it may be, it isn’t all that original. It’s a neowestern heist film where you follow two bankrobbers – Tanner (played by Ben Foster) and Toby (played by Chris Pine) – and the two Texas Rangers – Marcus (played by Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (played by Gil Birmingham) – that are trying to stop them.

While it may not be particularly unique or original, it does, however, feel like it has come at an appropriate time. See, it’s showing the true nature of the debt crisis, and therefore I’d agree with what others have been saying. In a way, Hell or High Water is a mixture of the Coens’ No Country for Old Men and Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes.

Now, I know that there are a lot of fans of David Mackenzie’s Starred Up, but, at the time of writing, I’ve only ever seen one of his films and that is the Ashton Kutcher sex comedy Spread, which you may know as L. A. Gigolo or Toy Boy depending on where you live. It was a huge shock for me to learn that the same director made both Spread and Hell or High Water.

One of the things that this film really deserves a lot of praise for is the work done by the terrific ensemble cast. When I saw that Ben Foster was in Hell or High Water, Warcraft was the last film I had seen him in. That wasn’t a very good film, he wasn’t very good in it (in fact, I thought he was miscast for his role), but I was still pretty confident that he was going to be great in this film. And he is. Just as wonderful as you would expect him to be in a role that allows him to be as wild as Tanner Howard is.

I wasn’t expecting Chris Pine to be as good as he is here. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Pine, but while I do think he’s a good Captain Kirk, I never expected that this film – a beige neowestern – would contain the best performance of his career, based on what I’ve seen from him.

Another guy who I don’t think I’ve ever seen give a better performance than what he gives here is Gil Birmingham. I only really know Birmingham from House of Cards and the Twilight films, and I found him much more compelling here, and I loved his interplay with Jeff Bridges’ character. Bridges’ character teases Birmingham’s character with a lot of really racist remarks in this film, but the film makes it very clear how much Bridges loves and appreciates his partner.

And I really do think Jeff Bridges gives the best performance in this film. There is this shocking scene, which I won’t spoil, in which his reaction feels very real and effective. It’s a tiny moment in a big scene, but it just works so well and is so true to that kind of character.

These characters feel very genuine and true to life – you know these kinds of people – and that’s a testament to both Taylor Sheridan’s script and all of these wonderful performances. The robbery scenes are thrilling, tense, and surprising.

But the thing I think I enjoyed the most about this film is how you like both the bankrobbers and the Texas Rangers. How, when they finally crash into each other (so to speak), you don’t want anyone to get hurt. Hell or High Water is a visually impressive film chock-full of captivating moments. The performances are some of the best you will see all year, and Hell or High Water is a must-watch film.

9.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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