Movie review: ‘Hell or High Water’ a stark look at America’s economic climate
–The past few years have been rough from an economic standpoint. We’ve had more than a couple movies that have looked at how the housing bubble burst, and that have forewarned that the hard times might not be over. We even have a TV series — “Mr. Robot” — that, among other things, attacks the foundation of our economy.
Into that fray comes “Hell or High Water.” It’s a heist movie, yes. It’s a buddy cop movie, yes. But it’s also a movie that takes a hard look at the economic climate, and the way it drives people to a certain kind of response.
Last year one of the most striking films I saw was “Sicario,” from writer Taylor Sheridan. He is back with “Hell or High Water,” this time turning his knack for sparse dialogue and action sequences to a different kind of losing battle.
“Hell or High Water” is set in Texas, where times are tough and signs offering to buy out under water property and bail out debt-ridden individuals is everywhere. Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) could certainly use the help, but they’re not turning to the bank.
After their mother passed, Toby and Tanner saw the family farm about to go back to the bank thanks to a reverse mortgage that helped pay the medical bills. Tanner — recently out of prison — has few prospects. Toby wants something to leave his children, especially with the discovery of oil — and a potential pay day — on the family property.
But how to save it from the bank? The brothers decide to go on a bank robbery spree, hitting branches of the same bank and using the proceeds to save the family farm. Their quick hitting style, and small totals during each job, keep the crimes from drawing the attention of the federal authorities.
But it does go to the Texas Rangers, where Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is days away from retirement. But he decides to track down these thieves with his partner, Alberto (Gil Bermingham), with whom he has a unique back-and-forth relationship.
As Toby and Tanner race against the clock to raise the capital to save the family farm, Marcus and Alberto try to figure out where they will strike next and cut off their plan.
Director David McKenzie doesn’t have a long cinematic resume. But he has a feel for this story and these characters. He gets a lot out of his performers, and maximizes the slice of life offered by Sheridan.
“Hell or High Water” was a festival darling in the winter and has been a surprise hit at the Box Office as the summer draws to a close. It’s drawn rave reviews and even comparisons to “No Country For Old Men.” I don’t think it’s quite on that level, but it’s entertaining, gripping and asks some serious questions about where we’re headed as a country.
The film could be seen as endorsing this type of criminal behavior, but I don’t think that’s the point. I think it’s merely making a commentary about the economic desperation of a large swath of Americans in service of telling and interesting story about brothers, redemption, second chances and missed opportunities.
Bridges — an Academy Award winner — channels something similar to the wily bounty hunter he played in “True Grit.” He’s a talented actor that brings a lot of depth to the part. He has a beautiful rapport with Bermingham, who shines in this supporting role, too.
But the real hard work is done by Pine and Foster. Pine is best known for his work as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, but he offers a very different kind of character and performance in this. Foster, meanwhile, sinks into this role and does some fine work as the daredevil and crazy brother, but one who opines the wrong choices he’s made in his life. It’s a performance that’s led to some Academy Award buzz, so it will be interesting to see how that carries forward.
“Hell or High Water” isn’t a fast, action-paced film. It’s a slow burn and more of a character piece. But it’s well put together and a slice of life that chronicles the struggles of many Americans in 2016, and that alone makes it worthy of consideration.
“Hell or High Water” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.