There are old fashioned crime tales of outlaws and the law on their trail, and gripping family dramas driven by blood and money. David Mackenzie’s extraordinary modern western, Hell or High Water, incorporates much of the classic bank robbers on the run scenario, with deep-rooted and finely-tuned characters, not to mention a compelling, contemporary yarn set in America’s Southwest (which looks glorious I might add). This is not just about criminal exploits, no, it turns out to be about people with gritty determination too.
Perhaps without ethics or a true sense for consequences, the two brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob these banks not for greed or gratification, but because of the debt now attached to the endangered family farm following their mother’s death. The sibling rivalry and bond is fascinatingly portrayed, not just by two very fine performances, but through their behaviors – the more down-to-Earth Toby is often perturbed by the wild-fire of the riskier Tanner, but he’d take a bullet for him. The harmlessly turbulent, tolerant relationship between the Texas Rangers in pursuit, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, is also well-played.
The screenplay, which has lingered like gold around the film industry for a while now, was written by Taylor Sheridan (who just scored a home run with Sicario). It’s a terrific, bold script, easing the audience straight into the predicaments and motivation of the characters without breaking a sweat. While the action, tension, and grind keeps your attention, we are treated to some engaging, sometimes witty, dialogue, and forward-propelling story-telling. Amidst a cast in great form, Bridges in particularly is effortlessly brilliant.