By Justin Cudahy, Contributor
[Sidney Kimmel Entertainment; 2016]
Hell or High Water comes from the popular idiom, meaning to do whatever it takes, no matter the circumstances. This fits the movie perfectly, which follows Toby and Tanner Howard, a pair of brothers who aim to rob a chain of banks across West Texas in an effort to raise enough money to prevent their recently deceased mother’s farm house from undergoing foreclosure. On the other side, two rangers are tasked in hunting down the bank robbers in an effort to prevent a future heist. What ensues is a classic cat and mouse movie full of witty dialogue, superb screenwriting, and enough action and violence to leave you satisfied by the end.
The acting in this movie is top notch. Strong performances by both Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who portray the outlaw brothers, helps the audience in buying the on-screen relationship between the two. Jeff Bridges, who plays the wise old ranger, also shines throughout, proving to people that “The Dude” still has it. Director David Mackenzie does a great job concentrating on these few characters and focusing deep on the relationships between each other. You have the one brother who is the catalyst to all things crime and is willing to risk it all, and then you have the other half who isn’t sure whether or not all of this is worth it, and is always reluctant in going through with the robberies. A similar relationship can be observed between the rangers, where you have the one veteran on the brink of retirement, and the young and inexperienced partner who still has his life ahead of him. By creating these characters who are polar opposites from one another, this emphasizes each of their traits and personality, which in this case, works perfectly.
Hell or High Water isn’t perfect however. There were so many opportunities for the movie to change the tempo and go into a subplot, but unfortunately, that was absent for the most part. Instead, it feels like 102 minutes of cycling between planning the heist and executing it, with a few added scenes in-between, consisting mostly of random encounters with the people they meet as they travel across the state. All of this comes down to a final confrontation between the two groups as the film reaches its climax and what eventually erupts into an ending you could see from a mile away. Another thing that stood out were all the parallels between this movie and 2007’s No Country for Old Men. These elements include their neo-western styles, and their plots, both revolving around a cat and mouse chase for money and criminals. Jeff Bridges also takes on a nearly identical character to what Tommy Lee Jones played, a ranger who is weeks away from retirement but faces the uncertainty of what to do afterwards.
Overall, Hell or High Water does a great job for a film of its caliber. It could have been so much more than just a heist film, but fails to develop from there. Fortunately, this doesn’t ruin the experience in the slightest. Its dark humor and clever screenplay is Oscar-worthy in itself, so don’t be surprised to see it nominated in the near future. Great performances all around as well as directing makes this movie a must see for everyone.