Review: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Directed by David Mackenzie.

I can think of a few things I might have done to make Hell or High Water better, but I can’t think of anything it does wrong. One of the best things about always finding something to complain about in a movie is that when a film comes along and I can’t think of a single legitimate gripe, it becomes something really special. And while it doesn’t have quite the emotional heft of other no-complaint movies like Beauty and the Beast or Casablanca, Hell or High Water has an emotional and visual ambience to put it in the league of The Shawshank Redemption.

Jeff Bridges is Marcus Hamilton, a Texas Ranger a few weeks from retirement. Unsure what he’s going to do with himself when he’s no longer part of the action, he seems to earn a break from thinking too much about it when he and his partner investigate a string of small-town bank robberies. We’re spared too much of the procedural stuff but we get a glimpse of Hamilton’s sharp mind and long experience, as well as his tendency toward rude insults and humor, mostly at the expense of his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

The robbers are Toby and Tanner Howard, brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. Although they are poor, it’s not greed that has either brother putting on a ski mask and picking up a weapon. Hamilton picks up on this and the chase is on.

The movie is stylistically a cross between the first season of True Detective and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. I wouldn’t be surprised if writer Taylor Sheridan was a Springsteen fan, because there are some themes here that sound like they come right off the lyrics sheet. Which is to say it’s really, really good.

The dialogue, story, music, acting, and cinematography are all on the upper end of excellent. Although I might have liked a liiiittle more development of the Hamilton-Parker relationship and a liiiiittle more of Tanner’s backstory, especially with his ex-wife and sons, if fleshing these out would in any way have messed with the pacing, I can do without them. This is a movie that manages to take its time while also hurtling you and its characters to the finish.

I’ve heard people complain about the last scenes of True Detective season one, and although I don’t agree with the complaints, I understand the point. I kind of picture them all, on seeing the end of Hell or High Water, standing up in their seats and saying, “THAT is how you end a great story!”

I’ve now seen most of the films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2016, and I’m quite sure this is the best of them.


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