Hell or High Water

A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

Director: David MacKenzie

Starring: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, John-Paul Howard, Margaret Bowman

Rated: R (some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality)


Hell or High Water

By Cole Schneider

I cannot overstate how rare it is that a film is able to mix nuanced intelligence, textured emotion, skillful cinematic restraint, and propulsive entertainment with the precision of “Hell or High Water”. It’s an instant masterpiece that is so downright perfect it doesn’t feel like a masterpiece typically feels. It doesn’t blow you away with visual verve or kinetic style and it doesn’t re-envision the world. What “Hell or High Water” is able to share with its audience is much more profound and satisfying: it’s able to hold a singular tone while juggling multiple genres and it’s able to drill underneath those genres for oil we never knew was there.

“Hell or High Water” is a perfect family drama. It’s a perfect modern western. It’s a perfect crime film. It’s a perfect revenge tale. It’s a perfect chase film. It’s a perfect action-thriller. It has perfectly dry comedy. It has a perfect regional setting. It’s perfect economic commentary. It has perfect acting. It’s perfectly directed. Its morals are perfectly complex. Its characters are perfect is that we are so easily able to empathize with their imperfections.

The film follows two pairs of characters. The first are brothers: one is a generally good divorced man trying to put his kids in a better situation; the other is a hot-tempered ex-con. The brothers work together to rob several branches of the bank foreclosing on their family’s land. The other pair are Texas Rangers: one is an honest but foul-mouthed veteran on the eve of retirement; the other is a half-Comanche, half-Mexican lawman of lesser experience. A showdown always looms, and neither the journey nor the destination disappoint.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Hell or High Water

By Matt Greene

What defines a “western”? Is it cowboys? Guns? Horses? Boots? Or is it its morals of American masculinity itself; a study of what does, and what should, make a man? No matter what the criteria, Hell or High Water fits. Sure, it’s not the typical period piece fare we normally get from the genre, but it’s a wonderfully old-fashioned yarn that would’ve been a hit in most bygone eras. Only an “indie” by the most basic description, its qualitative and crowd-pleasing reach much exceeds its financial grasp. Boasting funny, enthralling, and character-filled fun from start to finish, this unconventional cowboy chronicle is the movie we’ve wanted all year.

It’s the story of the bank-robbing Howard brothers (Pine, Foster) and the nearly-retired lawman (Bridges) who’s hot on their tales. The script is perfect, from the dialogue to the plotting to the characters to the themes. The simplicity of its cat-and-mouse setup allows the thematic and ethical complexities to unravel as the story does, instead of forcing it through hackneyed exposition. Touching on topics like the dangers of nostalgia, flawed justice, colonialism, and western heroism, its thematic richness is only matched by its penetrating visuals.

With anti-hero films filling the cinematic landscape nowadays, this is more a “pro-human” film. We find ourselves “rooting” for everyone, not because they’re necessarily “justified”, but because we know them. Director MacKenzie is a proven actors-director, and the performances here are utterly naturalistic and masterful. Along with a wonderful soundtrack and grimily stellar sets and costumes, it’s an enveloping viewing experience you feel like you’re living. As entertainingly cool as it is penetratingly artful, HoHW is far-and-away my favorite film of 2016.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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