COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., September 4, 2016 — “Hell or High Water,” is an end-of-summer indie flick starring Jeff Bridges as town constable Marcus Hamilton, that you don’t want to miss. It is the kind of story that has you smiling to yourself even days after you’ve seen it.
Better yet, it’s a film for adults who appreciate character, dialogue and plot, arriving as a welcome late-summer antidote for movie lovers who’ve tired of this summer’s endless parade of comic book superheroes, tiresome CGI animations and general mayhem and bombast.
British director David Mackenzie (“Starred Up,” “Perfect Sense”) brings viewers a quirky genre piece based in West Texas Flyover Country, complete with authentic-sounding Texas dialogue, dusty Texas towns, and a feeling of shared hopelessness that the film’s pair of bank robbers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) aim to end.
After the family matriarch passes away, saving the the family’s West Texas farm comes front and center even as the brothers are forced to face adversity on numerous fronts including child support they owe, the threat of the bank to take their land, and their own general inclination towards becoming outlaws as perhaps the best way to solve their problems.
Their oddly rational solution is to turn the tables on their main adversary—a lack of money—by robbing banks all over West Texas that have in abundance exactly what the brothers need. Unfortunately, Toby and Tanner are hardly the cunning sort of bandits. They’re real people, meticulously developed and conflicted characters pushed into becoming criminals in order to save all that they hold dear.
Mackenzie’s application of the script, written by Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) has created the kind of independent film that attracts significant star power to convey its story, going beyond its crime-spree surface to plumb the depths of the brothers’ history.
In a stellar performance, Jeff Bridges represents the law, portraying Sheriff Hamilton as an old, withered, crusty—and priceless—character, the kind the audience loves and cheers for. As Toby, Chris Pine brings a sexy “bad-boy” vibe into the mix, adding a deeper-than-blue-eyes handsomeness to his role that gives us a character far removed from his better-known role as the iconic James T. Kirk in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise films.
As Pines’ partner in crime, a mustachioed Ben Foster is is best described as a sociopathic screwup who knows he’s a screwup, which somehow makes him endearing, in spite of his biker-inspired facial hair.
The brothers’ targets are precisely those banks that are threatening to foreclose on the family farm, which, for Toby, justifies their turn to violent crime. He reasons that he and his brother must go to extreme lengths to save the family from its seemingly inevitable fate while protecting the monetary value of the oil that’s been discovered on their land and keeping it out of the hands of the greedy big bank that seeks to benefit from the foreclosure.
This leads, perhaps, to a larger question, the kind that many have been asking of themselves since 2008: are the two brothers in this film really criminals? Or are they just two more victims in the legion of forgotten middle-class Americans fighting an unexpected life and death battle to grab what’s left of their vanishing prosperity before greedy corporations can take it away?
While the core cast of Bridges, Pine and Foster are brilliant in their roles, the casting of the supporting players in this film is equally inspired. Example: At the T-Bone, a greasy spoon restaurant, the brothers have an encounter with a waitress (Margaret Bowman) that can best be described as heartwarming. A resident of the real America, she’s pleasingly plump, yet she’s still sexy-sweet.
In yet another memorable scene, Sheriff Hamilton and his half-Comanche partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) wait outside a Midlands bank branch where they expect the brothers to show up. Hamilton seems to understand that reasons behind the brothers’ actions. Despite seeing the wrong, he also sees the right as he recognizes the bankers, whose self-interest oozes from their very pores, for the crooks they really are.
Let’s just say that when you start with a superb script, put Bridges in a cowboy hat and put him to work chasing after bank robbers, you end up with an unexpected summer blockbuster that explores criminality within the context of a higher morality in which the actions of the brothers, the sheriff and the banks are ultimately weighed on the scales of justice.
Dare we even say, is this film an Oscar candidate for best picture?
That’s just how much this reviewer enjoyed “Hell or High Water.”