Title: Hell or High Water
Genre: Crime, Drama, Western
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Music: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens
“From the director of STARRED UP (2013) and the writer of SICARIO (2015)” seems to be a double warrant that this latter-day cat-and-mouse bank robbery Western will not disappoint. Hell yeah, you bet, it doesn’t.
David Mackenzie’s latest picture takes place in New Mexico, substituted for West Texas in the story, its vast flatlands where cowpokes once galloped heroically now has been infested by an economic downturn, Mackenzie rams home that halcyon days are gone, derelict landscapes are sublimely captured by the film’s traversing shots which also topically inform viewers that capitalism has rapaciously seized the opportunity to exploit the scrape for its own benefit, with big placards of banks’ artifices glaringly omnipresent against the lugubrious backwater.
The mother of Tanner (Foster) and Toby Howard (Pine) is the victim of a bank stratagem, the heinous reserve mortgage, after her decease, Toby inherits the range, but needs to pay off the debts to the Texas Midlands Bank before the deadline, otherwise the ranch will be foreclosed, more significantly, oil has recently been discovered on the land, it will be a gold mine but he must secure the dough before bank takes it over, so he avails himself of this obsolete action (nobody robs bank nowadays!) to bag enough cash from the said bank, with Tanner lending a helping hand, who is an ex-con (for manslaughter of their own father) and has just been released from the jail over a year.
In Toby’s plan, they cannot risk taking notes of big face-value, which can be tracked, so they need to rob several branches to rack up the sum, and Tanner turns out to be quite an apt partner-in-crime, although sometimes also a loose cannon who has no scruples about violence when he sees fit. But Taylor Sheridan’s script robustly refuses to lend an easy dichotomous characterization between the two brothers, Tanner is aggressive, presumptuous, but also deeply connected by their brotherhood and consanguinity, he has nothing to lose, and will do anything to make sure that Toby can buy their land back from the bank, ethically we shouldn’t root for him, but Ben Foster brings home Tanner’s atrocity and self-sacrifice to audience in such a pressing force, our moral compass might be unconsciously deflected.
Chris Pine’s Toby, on the other hand, stays close to our compassion, a retiring but seemingly innocuous Texan (although Sheridan ascertains that the violent DNA runs in the family), divorced and has two children whom he hasn’t seen for nearly a year, if he fails to pay the mortgage, he will lose everything, not to mention a safe future for his children, we can wholeheartedly concur his actions because he has no other alternative, also because he is righteously fighting against the canker pervading in our society presently, only if, their last mission had not gone awry, a robbery on the pay-day is a big remiss, while trigger-happy on-lookers are simply too bovine to be martyrized for the interest of the banking conglomerate.
The pair traces Howard brothers are two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), and his half-Mexican-half-Comanche partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). Marcus is on the verge of retirement, considers the chase his last field-day out and wallows in his politically incorrect jests with a condoning Alberto meanwhile trying to outguess Tanner and Toby’s moves, which culminates in an an-eye-for-an-eye retribution in the wild where Bridges gives a text-book paragon of changing emotions, from initial insouciance, to sudden terror, then a pang of anguish until a regarding but also benumbing victory, the Dude is back for more trophies! Then, in the finale where Marcus visiting Toby in his ranch, both actors superbly register an enticing ambiguity in the face of the ugly truth behind their inevitable encounter, intrepidly take the grey zone with a whopping bang, death could be a relief after all the damage has been done, but it is the residue of the unpalatable memories will haunt both in the rest of their waking hours, or maybe in their dreams as well.
A summer sleeper in the North American box office front, HoHW is a remarkable endeavor pays reverent homage to the Western genre while yoking its story intimately to today’s climate without losing its sober angle, an evocative soundtrack cooked up by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is also irresistible for those reminiscent souls, heading vigorously into the Oscar season, in my opinion, Bridge is reserved for a nomination, Foster could be a left-side contender, while its script, cinematography and editing also have a good chance, if it can scoop a SAG nomination for its splendid cast, then a BEST PICTURE player will not be a long shot afterwards.