Front Row at the Movies
“Hell or High Water”
A Modern-Day Western
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
This is what it’s come to: A movie where we root for the robbers and the bankers are the bad guys.
You can’t blame Toby Howard and his ex-con brother Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) for hating the Texas Midland Bank. Those shady loan sharks are foreclosing on the family’s West Texas farm, just as oil has discovered nearby.
Toby, being the clever brother, a divorced dad estranged from his sons, comes up with a plan to buy the farm back. It’s poetic justice: the brothers robbing branches of Texas Midland and using the bank’s own money to pay back the loan.
The boys have it all figured out, only taking the money in the teller’s cash drawers to avoid dye packs and laundering the stolen money by buying chips at Indian casinos.
However, as their crime spree continues Tanner gets sloppy and the robberies attract the attention of two Texas Rangers, wily ol’ Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his half-Comanche partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Marcus is nearing retirement, so he’s looking for a last hoorah, the chance to nail these bank-robbing scalawags. Doesn’t matter that he halfway admires them.
Unfortunately it doesn’t go quite the way Marcus expects. Or the way the Howard brothers had planned.
The film – “Hell or High Water” – is currently showing at Tropic Cinema.
British director David MacKenzie (“Starred Up”) and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) seem to be channeling the Coen Brothers. “Hell or High Water” mirrors the West Texas feel of “No Country for Old Men” like snapshot fading in the sun.
And Jeff Bridges is the perfect old man, white-mustachioed and shaded by dark sunglasses and a cowboy hat, walking the walk and talking the talk of an aging lawman, drawing on his “True Grit” persona, delivering a performance that sets a high bar. That Ben Foster reaches those heights is not so surprising, for his twitchy acting chops are well documented. The surprise is Chris Pine, transcending his smirky “Star Trek” image with this quietly intelligent turn as a man trying to reclaim what he feels is rightfully his. Even if he has to steal it back.
At its heart a Western, “Hell or High Water” has some glorious shoot-outs and well-choreographed bank robberies. But the dialogue between the brothers … and the jibing camaraderie between the two lawmen … make this a film worth the price of a ticket.