I’m always curious to see which movies get nominated at the Oscars. There’s always a handful of the big name, big studio movies that get the love, but they also do a pretty good job of highlighting some of the smaller, lesser known films as well. This year there seems to be a lot of them in the mix and honestly, not a lot of them were on my radar this year. I had seen the trailers for Hell or High Water, and while it had great casting and looked like my type of movie, I just never got around to watching it. But after I saw it got nominated for Best Picture I had to finally give this one a watch.
“The grand scheme of the story often gets pushed to the background in favor of some phenomenal dialogue and intimate character moments.”
The plot is pretty straightforward; two brothers embark on a bank robbing spree to pay off the mortgage on their land, with the law hot on their tails. It’s basically a modern day Western about anti-heroes being pushed to their limits, fighting against the system, and doing the wrong things for the right reasons. It was written by the same guy who wrote Sicario and it shows. The grand scheme of the story often gets pushed into the background in favor of some phenomenal dialogue and intimate character moments. They tease deeper meanings to the proceedings, like banking systems in the US, but they never throw it in your face and leave it out there as a simple fact of life. And while there are guns and heists and chases, it’s a much more cerebral “action” flick that’s all about the slow burn before it ultimately erupts. I’m a huge fan of great dialogue and character development, and Hell or High Water delivered on both fronts.
The cinematography was just as outstanding as the writing. They really captured the feel of small town West Texas with a ton of beautiful shots of the country side and rural living. They didn’t try to do too much or get too fancy, they really let the scenes speak for themselves and they did a great job of framing the more intimate moments between characters. It felt more like an experience more so than me watching it. They did a great job of pulling me in with their world building.
“Ben Foster as Tanner was the real star of the movie for me. He just has a presence about him and he always plays those emotionally damaged, menacing characters extremely well.”
The casting for the movie was fantastic. Chris Pine as Toby is the heart and soul of the affair and our entry in this world. He pulled off that anti-hero role perfectly and came off as a genuinely good person just doing what they felt they had to do. Ben Foster as Tanner was the real star of the movie for me. He just has a presence about him and he always plays those emotionally damaged, menacing characters extremely well. They don’t give you much in the way of their backstories but you still somehow end up feeling sympathetic because you can feel their damage through their demeanor, their interactions, and very presence. A tough thing to pull off and they did an exceptional job at it. The other standout was Jeff Bridges as Marcus, the old time law man in love with the chase. There’s not much I can say about Jeff Bridges at this point in his career, other than his respect has been well earned.
Have you seen Hell or High Water? What’d you think about it? Do you think it was better than Sicario? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to leave your rating for the movie.
* SPOILERS *
Their overall scheme was actually pretty well planned; taking the money to the casinos to essentially “launder” it was a cool idea.
I loved how nothing was “in your face”, like when Tanner told Toby to go on ahead you could see they both knew that it was the end of the line for him without having to say it.
I didn’t see Gil’s (Marcus’ partner) death coming and I like that Marcus didn’t get overly emotional, but instead became consumed with the need for justice. Without needing to explicitly show it or say it, you could tell it haunts him.
The fact that their was oil on their land was a big game changer and made what they were doing and why more believable for me.
I really loved the ending. After Toby and Marcus square off on the porch, Toby leaves an open invitation for him to come finish things, and Marcus says he might just take him up on that offer. We don’t find out whether they do face off again or not, but it was great ending that highlighted it’s old Western influences and the classic tale of outlaw vs law.
Hell or High Water is a modern day Western, with it's classic tale of outlaw vs law. It's got some phenomenal dialogue and character development and while it's mostly a slow burn, it packs a punch when things do erupt.