I had some riskily high expectations when I walked into a screening of Hell or High Water Sunday. The movie had an impressive, but potentially dangerous 98% on Rotten Tomatoes hanging over its’ head. There was also the presence of the always amazing Ben Foster. So, I had scarily high hopes about the film I was sitting down to watch. Thankfully, the fairly small scale, contemporary western drama did not disappoint.
Hell or High Water follows the story of Tanner and Toby Howard (Foster and Chris Pine). The brothers are ranchers turned bank robbers working their way through the small towns dotting the Texas plains, a setting still reeling from the economic downturn in the last decade. The narrative follows the subdued cat and mouse game between the Howard Brothers and Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger, who is coming uncomfortably close to retirement (Jeff Bridges). Antsy over the pending end of his career, Hamilton is relentless in his pursuit of the bank robbers, who are so smart in their process, the jobs remain of a small enough scale that the FBI is not interested. All the boiling tension comes to a peak as the cops and robbers finally after the boys tackle a job that’s just a bit bigger than their usual (and the typical you-know-what hits the fan). I’ll shy from going any farther…Spoilers…
As mentioned earlier, a tremendous draw to this film (at least for your’s truly) was the addition of Ben Foster to the cast. Foster has been drifting around Hollywood since the mid 1990s, but first entered the pop-culture consciousness with a star making turn in the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Since then, Foster has established himself as one of the most talented character actors working right now. However, the term hardly seems to do him justice. As a film critic, I put him in a very tiny group (along with Burn Gorman and Vincent D’Onofrio) for their impeccable ability to dive head first into complex and intense characters, and completely loose themselves.
In his relatively short career, Foster has crossed genres. He’s seemed equally at home in period westerns, period literary films, action films, vampire films, and superhero films. With his intensity and chameleon like ability to loose himself into a wide variety of characters, Ben Foster continues to establish himself as one of the best actors working in Hollywood right now. If you aren’t familiar with his work, be sure to get that way.
A round of applause (and a hip,hip horray) must also be given to Chris Pine for a stunning performance in Hell or High Water. With still a fairly young career himself, Pine first came to true box-office prominance as Captain Kirk in the JJ Abrams helmed 2009 Star Trek reboot. Although, a large percentage of millenial viewers might remember him (in picture at right), when he appeared opposite Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement in 2004. The actor, who has spent most of his carrer at home in box-office films, gained a whole new level of respect from yours truly in his abilitiy to keep up with the powerhouse ability of not only Foster, but the universally respected and 6 time Oscar nomminated Jeff Bridges. This is a temendous performance from Pine, and I hope we get to see more deep and layered parts like this for him in the future. To all the Pinenuts out there, put this film on your list.
The film, which was directed by David Mackenzie, does a stunning job at making the economically depressed Texas midlands a character in the film. The wide and sweeping landscape shots are almost pastoral (see the featured image above). And Mackenzie turns the film’s setting into further character development. Looking at all these boarded up buildings and shuttered storefronts, you can see why the Howard brothers are doing what they’re doing. The visual and written narrative (which comes from a script by Taylor Sheridan) does a tremendous job turning them (especially Pine’s character) into Robin Hood like figures. For much of the film, the robbed banks are actually built up as the villains, and you find yourself rooting for the two underdog robbers.
With the cinematic year just over 3/4 of the way over, Hell or High Water has pulled itself up from an underdog spot in the dog days of summer into one of my top films of the year. The intimate and tightly crafted character drama is expertly performed by its’ talented cast, and demonstrates a stellar visual eye by it’s filmmaker. Make sure you check this film out, as I hope (along with last month’s Indignation) it isn’t forgotten come awards season.
My verdict: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟