One of the oldest genre’s of American cinema is the Western. People have always had a fascination with the western United States and its sometimes mythical lore. Western movies had their heyday in 1950’s and 1960’s with masters like Sergio Leone and John Ford leading the charge. Around the 1970’s, Westerns dropped off in popularity until the turn of the century where they found a resurgence. Since then we seem to get one or two fantastically gripping westerns a year. They could be period pieces, like True Grit(2010) or The Hateful Eight, or a modern take on the genre like No Country for Old Men. This past year was no different as director David Mackenzie gave us Hell or High Water.
Nominated for three Golden Globes and starring Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster, Hell or High Water, tells the tale of two brothers who rob banks in order prevent their family ranch from foreclosure. Pine plays the younger brother, Toby, a divorced former oil worker with a clean record and Foster plays Tanner, the older brother ex-con with a history of violence. They are pursued by nearly retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his partner, played by Gil Birmingham, across West Texas as they race against time to break Toby’s family out of the cycle of poverty.
There is no doubt Hell or High Water is among the year’s best. With a tight script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), and fantastic direction from Mackenzie, this movie keeps you riveted from minute one where you witness the brothers’ first bank robbery. The performances by the three main actors are amazing as well. Pine turns in a career best performance as Toby, a man who just wants to help his family and is torn up by the things he is doing. Foster, one of the most underrated actors working today, is just perfect as the manic older brother who has a lust for anything criminal. His performance is similar to that of Jeremy Renner in the The Town and from the moment he steps on screen you cannot take your eyes off of him. Bridges once again shows why he is part of Hollywood royalty. He conveys the world weariness of a nearly retired lawman perfectly while also giving hints of emotion to broaden his character. Some may dismiss his performance as typical Bridges western schlock, but if you pay attention the subtleties he conveys are fascinating. The supporting cast that populates this movie is also fantastic as Mackenzie transports you right into western Texas. You feel as if you are there among the townsfolk and that cannot be overlooked.
They technical aspects of this movie cannot be overlooked either. The cinematography by Giles Nuttgens perfectly sets the mood, giving this move a somewhat grimy feeling. This is perfect because it matches the permanently dirty look of the main characters and constant spraying of dust during the car chases. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis gives the movie a haunting feel that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Also, not enough can be said about Mackenzie’s direction. He perfectly eases his way between action set pieces and quieter character moments without it feeling jarring at all.
The only flaw I have with this movie is that a times it can feel a little bit slow and some may even find the whole film to slow, but this is a minor gripe and one that does not prove detrimental to the film. I would not be surprised if it is up for a few Oscars come next week especially for Bridges in the Supporting Actor category and for Sheridan’s script. Overall, this is a fantastic film that will have you invested in its characters and keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end.