The writer of last years brilliant Sicario and the director of hard hitting prison drama Starred Up bring a dust covered Neo-Western in the form of Hell Or High Water.
A divorced father Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex convict brother Tanner rob a series of banks, hitting several in a morning and taking only small amounts. On their tail is the soon to be retired and gruff Sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges with a voice like gargling coal and a mustache that is only rivaled by Kurt Russell’s).
Hell Or High Water is a bank robbing western covered in a layer of brown dust and baked in the sun. Set in Texas, it takes place in a seemingly endless brown landscape where small towns sit waiting to die. The downturn of the economy squats largely over the film, seeping in to everything. This is a state where people are barely hanging on, living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a message that the film hits a little too hard; every single person is destitute and has a story to tell about how hard they have it. At the film’s centre is a question of tricky morality. The dilapidated farm that Toby lives on was his mother’s, who he was taking care of while she slowly died. The brothers only rob branches of the Texas Midland Bank, the company who wrapped up their mother and her farm in debt that she couldn’t hope to repay on her own. The bank trapped them in their poverty, keeping them unable to get the farm up and running again, biding their time until the could repossess the property. The Howard brothers aren’t stealing from the banks for greed. They don’t steal any of the customers’ money, only the banks’. They are committing a crime but they are doing it against a company who has wronged them. Of course, things spiral out of control and when guns start going off then the hazy morality becomes even harder to define. This being Texas, everybody carries a gun and are quick to use them causing a couple of close calls for the brothers, including a tense and exciting scene where an old school posse of people chase after them in their trucks.
Hell Or High Water has the streak of Texan style black humour to it, especially with Bridges’ old sheriff, but it can also hit the hard moments with all the actors turning in effective performances.
An enjoyable Neo-Western that juxtaposes the strange dual side of old and new Texas. It hits its moral message a bit hard at times but its entertaining and exciting.
4 out of 5