Who would have thought that at a time when originality in Hollywood seems to be at an all-time low, a film about a sheriff trying to hunt down two brothers on the wrong side of the law would be the breath of fresh air that the industry desperately needed?
It’s not a remake or connected to an older franchise in the same way that most of this past summer’s releases have been, but “Hell or High Water” wins major originality points despite having such a basic premise. Execution is everything, and with this film, director David Mackenzie beautifully crafts a multi-layered tale that challenges the viewer’s basic notions of right versus wrong by offering up several candidates for the real protagonist.
“Hell or High Water” begins with a tried and true way to kick off a crime drama: a bank robbery. Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively, decide to rob a string of Texas banks for reasons that go beyond the two of them wanting rich and comfortable lifestyles for themselves.
Jeff Bridges plays Marcus, a Texas Ranger tasked with investigating the nature of these robberies and bringing the two masked bandits to justice. Just mere weeks away from retirement, Marcus is relentless in his pursuit and determined to close this case for himself before stepping away for good. Bridges effortlessly conveys the subdued intensity of a man who’s been in situations like these before, playing a character whose bad side you wouldn’t want to be on and someone who is exactly right for this line of work.
Though this might be Jeff Bridges’ movie, that’s not to say that other characters don’t get a chance to shine. Pine and Foster do some exceptional work in creating a sense of history between the two brothers, one that is dysfunctional and filled with tragedy, but also very genuine and affectionate all at the same time. Foster’s character comes off as a bit of a loose cannon with a questionable moral code, while Pine’s character seems inherently good-natured and yet constantly at war with his own self. He feels a duty to help his brother commit to these crimes, but refuses to let himself become comfortable with the idea of harming innocents along the way.
At a running time of approximately 140 minutes, there’s not a single wasted moment in “Hell or High Water.” Every scene is either progressing the narrative or demonstrating to the audience who these characters really are through their actions and the choices that they make. It’s fascinating to watch how each of these characters progress throughout the course of the film, and the vastly different set of circumstances that they face by the film’s end compared to where they started. Nowadays, films as tense and gripping as this one are too few and far between. It’s not a box-office hit with mass appeal, but “Hell or High Water” should definitely be seen by anyone who enjoys great performances as well as thought-provoking storytelling.