When it comes to a world that is full of darkness and desolation, Taylor Sheridan is your man. The last script he penned, “Sicario,” received loads of attention and was generally praised. Now, the same can be said of his latest script, “Hell or High Water.” To enter a world that encompasses real-world issues, but breaks them down and bears their souls, is a talent. Directed by David Mackenzie (“Perfect Sense”), “Hell or High Water” gets down and dirty, the cast’s performances are top notch, and it is, without doubt, one of the best films out this year.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), two brothers who have just been left with the upcoming foreclosure of their family’s farm in West Texas, are out to seek justice. Their version of it is to rob every small bank and then take the money to buy the farm back. Toby is a divorced father of two sons and has no criminal record. On the other hand, Tanner is the exact opposite and has always been more troublesome, with a stint in jail. Toby agrees to rob the banks so that his children will benefit from a trust in their name and they won’t want for anything. The only hiccup in their plan is the involvement of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a cop who is on his last case before retirement and has nothing to lose.

To describe “Hell or High Water” as just gritty would be doing it a disservice. Because underneath its grit are layers of pointed statements about banks, injustice, and morals. And in the middle of West Texas, where gun-toting small town people have been hit hard by the recession and faulty bank loans, the film is reminiscent of those which tackled a similar scenario: “99 Homes”, “The Big Short,” etc. But Mackenzie and Sheridan have managed to make a film that is about the modern issues we’ve faced in recent years, but which still feels like it takes place on the old frontier.

Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens is to thank for the film’s beauty and its ability to capture the setting without alluding to it in many words. There are so many shots that are intimate, set against the shadows of the fading light. The film allows the characters to progress and for the audience to understand what’s going on without being bogged down by a ton of unnecessary exposition. The film finds itself and flourishes in the quieter moments. And although there are certain times when it looks like the story won’t build to anything really substantial, it finally ramps up the intensity without foregoing its commitment to the overall simplicity.

Ben Foster and Chris Pine especially shine as two brothers who have a close bond and are quick to help and defend one another. Jeff Bridges as the worn out sheriff still has enough energy to shoot racist remarks at his half Mexican, half Native American partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), who, in turn, pointedly reminds him that regardless of their histories, things have shifted and the banks currently own them and, by extension, their lives. The four actors don’t share any scenes together until the very end, but with each pair there’s a fascinating dynamic to be analyzed.

“Hell or High Water” is dynamic, well-paced, and builds momentum up until the final showdown where it then turns the intensity all the way up. The gritty tone of the film fits in well with the setting and the backstory is well done and laid out nicely, even taking the time to encompass the surrounding world outside of the main characters through the use of billboards and shots of vast emptiness. There are some great lines throughout and the cast really steps into their roles, owning every second they’re onscreen. In a summer filled with disappointing films, “Hell or High Water” really delivers.


"Hell or High Water" is dynamic, well-paced, and builds momentum up until the final showdown where it then turns the intensity all the way up. In a summer filled with disappointing films, "Hell or High Water" really delivers.



About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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