Review: HELL OR HIGH WATER

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Taylor Sheridan, the writer of Sicario which is one of my top favorite movies of last year, penned the screenplay for this film which also happens to be one of my favorites of this year so far.  Sheridan and director David Mackenzie have made a terrific film with Hell or High Water, a movie that not only can boast solid writing and direction, but also superb performances by its cast.  The film is an incendiary and gritty modern western that has compelling characters, smart and witty dialogue and a highly relevant story.

Ben Foster and Chris Pine star as brothers Tanner and Toby Howard, two brothers who plan a series of bank robberies to get their family farm out of foreclosure.  Recently released from prison, Tanner is a career criminal who loves the adrenaline rush he gets from committing crimes.  Toby, on the other hand, has always stayed out of trouble, but is desperate to save his family’s land for his children.  As the Tanners proceed with their plans, the robberies catch the attention of Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).  Hamilton, who is due to retire soon, becomes determined to capture the brothers before he ends his career.

Even though the story and characters are a bit familiar, the movie still makes for engrossing and gripping entertainment.  The film can probably be described as No Country For Old Men meets Heat.  However, Sheridan’s story does make a strong commentary on the banking system and the economic troubles faced by farmers today.  Despite the fact that Sheridan’s story and characters feature an assortment of cliches, the development of both is still solid and masterfully executed.  Director David Mackenzie perfectly creates a hot and gritty setting for the story with gorgeous cinematography by Giles Nuttgens.  The movie also features an outstanding score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

The film’s cast delivers exceptional performances with Chris Pine shining brightly as the pained, but desperate Toby Howard.  Ben Foster has a knack for portraying wild and unhinged characters, so he is perfectly cast as the impulsive and brutish career criminal Tanner.  As Jeff Bridges gets older, he seems poised to take over any roles Tommy Lee Jones turns down.  I say this as a joke, because I have no idea whatsoever if Jones was offered the role of Ranger Hamilton, but it is a role he could have easily filled.  I definitely see a similarity to Jones’ Ed Tom Bell character in No Country for Old Men.  I only mention this as an observation, and not as a slight to Bridges who delivers an awesome performance.  He certainly has some of the better, more memorable lines in the film and contributes to the hilarious comedy.  I must also acknowledge the excellent acting by Gil Birmingham who portrays Hamilton’s partner Alberto Parker, an amusingly stoic foil to the racist and unfiltered Ranger Hamilton.

I have to say that I am rather impressed with Taylor Sheridan as a screenwriter.  Considering that his first major screenplay is Sicario and Hell or High Water is only his second,  Sheridan has a bright future ahead of him in writing and possibly directing.  I definitely look forward to any future scripts he may have to offer.  In the meantime, I must highly recommend this film, and for those who haven’t yet seen it, I must also strongly recommend Sicario.  Both films have great direction and acting, but they also have fine screenplays by the same talented writer.

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