Hell or High Water (2016)

Synopsis: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2582782/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Taylor Sheridan’s 2015 film “Sicario” boasted an enticing plot, quality actors, and an intriguing trailer. His 2016 film “Hell or High Water” played all these same notes for me — plus it has Jeff Bridges as an old southerner, so I’m there.

Leah’s Review:

“Hell or High Water” is one of those sneaky films that gets nominated for several Oscars but no one is really talking about. But maybe that’s just the nature of the movie itself. When boiled down, it’s nothing more than your typical heist movie- but there’s more to the story than meets the eye. The cycle of poverty and the problem of colonization of indigenous peoples in the U.S. are subtle themes throughout the movie as we see our main characters struggle with what’s right and what’s necessary.

One of the things I liked about this film is that the notion of “bad” guys “good” guys is somewhat ambiguous, and it doesn’t force you to decide who’s in the right or in the wrong. As the movie begins, we watch as Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) rob a small local bank. So of course, we’re to assume these characters will be the villains of the film. But soon-after we discover that they are using the money from the robbery (and the subsequent robberies thereafter) to save the family ranch and provide Toby’s children with a future. We also learn that the specific branch of banks that the men are stealing from have taken advantage of their family and others in the area who also live in poverty. Now perhaps more can be said for Toby’s character in this Robin Hood-esc heroism that for Tanner’s. Tanner’s (who we learn has spent several years in jail for robbery) motivation seems to be more about the thrill of the crime and perhaps some twisted pursuit of justice than helping his family. But Tanner genuinely cares about his brother and ultimately helps him succeed with his plan even though it doesn’t benefit him in the end.

As for the film’s “good guys”, Marcus (a local Ranger played by Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham)- the emphasis is placed more on the complexities of their relationship and how the each view the world they live in. Marcus struggles with his impending retirement, often taking his frustrations out on Alberto (who part Native American, part Mexican) with racial remarks and a stubborn need to be right. For the most part, Alberto takes Marcus’s rude slurs in stride- getting right back at Marcus with ageist insults. The two bicker like an old-married couple, but it’s clear by the end of the film that their relationship went beyond a seeming dislike of each other.

Where “Hell of High Water” shines isn’t only in it’s spectacular acting (Bridges is never not good, and I was really impressed with Pine’s ability to play a more serious and complex character), but in the way it weaves a rich tapestry of storytelling- making the elements of the film feel both raw and real. I doubt this movie will win Best Picture, but not for lack of quality- but because it relies less on flashiness and more on authenticity and a well-told story to leave an impression.

Brent’s Review:

“Hell or High Water” stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges in a southern drama about two brothers (Pine & Foster) who aim to steal enough money from West Midlands Bank to pay the mortgage and backed taxes on their deceased mother’s land while a local deputy (Bridges) tries to stop them.

Why West Midlands Bank? Because, according to the film, their policies are designed to take advantage of poor families, such as Pine & Foster’s, and keep them in debt or away from owning property.

If this sounds like a more nuanced storyline than you were expecting from an action romp, that’s because you were probably duped by the misleading marketing and casting of Chris Pine. There is no doubt that the film’s narrative is straightforward and drives like an action film, but “Hell or High Water” often opts for quiet moments of introspection where an action film might opt for big budget set pieces.

One interesting feature of “Hell or High Water” is that it doesn’t cast judgment on the characters on either side of the fence. Are Pine and Foster justified in stealing money from a bank that has rigged the game against them? Is Bridges justified in trying to apprehend them? The film seems to deliberately avoid answering this question, leaving it hang in the air during the final scene. I think this is for the better as it creates a more thought-provoking, ambiguous viewing experience and demands discussion after the credits roll.

Bridges is reliable in his typical southern drawl and Foster plays the maniacal ex-con well off of Pine’s calculating, methodical hero. Given that neither of these performances were surprising to me, I will turn to Pine’s, which is easily the best of his career. Not only is this the best script he’s had to work with, he showcases his ability to convey emotion without screaming, or in some cases without saying a word. “Hell or High Water” is worth watching for this typecast-breaking performance alone.

The real winner in this film is actor-turned-writer Taylor Sheridan, who is quickly making a big splash in Hollywood in recent years with two heralded original screenplays, 2015’s “Sicario” and now his Oscar-nominated effort in “Hell or High Water.” In both films, Sheridan demonstrates his commitment to crafting morally ambiguous stories grounded in current sociopolitical realities and creating believable narrative arcs within them. Meanwhile, he is clearly one of the most gifted writers today when it comes to writing excruciatingly suspenseful scenes. Be on the lookout for Sheridan’s work in the coming years, especially if his scripts continue to be picked up by skilled directors.

Up next: We’ll be watching our second international film of the year as we take on the 2005 French thriller “Cache”.

Peace out, kids.


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