Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) have commenced a string of nearly systematic bank robberies in Texas. Ex-con Tanner seems a bit overly enthused about the gung-ho action, but Toby would rather take the money and run without leaving too violent a trail.
Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) finds the goings-on dryly amusing and believes he's found the perfect case with which to wind down his career (whether he likes it or not); and his slow and methodical detective work is more than a bit frustrating for his partner Gil Birmingham (Alberto Parker).
Between its genuine affection for local color and character and its melancholy over a seemingly irreversible deterioration of the American Dream, David Mackenzie's HELL OR HIGH WATER steps up to assert kinship with Coen Bros. classics ranging from FARGO to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN--but unlike such superficial efforts as CUT BANK, it truly earns such standing.
The Texas of the film maintains surface brightness only with a plethora of richly-hued foreclosure notices and debt relief advertisements, and scarcely anyone feels sympathy for the banks being robbed; nor does the by-the-book Hamilton gain more than well-cheered antagonism when, for example, he seizes an overly-generous tip doled out to a diner waitress in the name of "evidence." And it's not hard to sympathize with Toby when he's seen trying to do right by his ex-wife and two children when he sees no other way around a bank eager to swoop on a desperate reverse mortgage... especially when the mercy of a brief extension could have made the entire ordeal unnecessary.
But of course the vanishing of Texas (and feel free to take that further) isn't laid entirely at the doorstep of modern bankers. The Howards and Hamilton alike are both asked to consider the heritage of the American Indian throughout the film--yet the film takes that up with a variety of attitudes and never allows a simple history lesson or sermon to take over. Hamilton himself hates the idea of giving up the only way of life to which he's dedicated himself and delights in playfully baiting and teasing his Native American partner in "you're going to miss me when I'm gone" fashion. None of this stops the two of them from sharing either their enthusiasm for the chase or a good laugh when confronted with a no-nonsense steakhouse restaurant waitress in one of the best scenes. By contrast, another high point occurs at an Indian casino where Tanner relishes a face-to-face with a poker opponent who wishes to let him know what the word "Comanche" actually means... but at the same time, none of the profane, confrontational banter between the two brothers can stand between their kinship.
Indeed, the bonds between the brothers and the Rangers alike provide near-equal humor and tension throughout, with the former more than capable of winning an audience over. But of course, as in any Bonnie and Clyde tale, things eventually cross a line (and not just with the exploitation of every "concealed-carry" debate you've ever heard). I will simply say that during the packed screening that I attended, I participated in one of the most intense collective audience gasps I've ever witnessed... such is the power of the film. Nor should any thoughtful reviewer say more.
HELL OR HIGH WATER nearly coasted in under my radar. But when it comes to taking advice from knowledgeable friends? "I think you'd like it" will get my consideration. "Trust me on this" I'll take seriously. Then there's "Consider that an order."
Point taken. This ranks as one of the best films I've seen all year.
Moderator: Chris Slack
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