Review: Hell Or High Water
When film began to comment on life, the medium took on the rich form we know today. Gone were the days of simple, straightforward images that lived benignly in their fictional universe. They were replaced with ones that compel you to examine the actual world around you. Such is the case with Hell Or High Water. It boldly questions our institutions and gives faces to those forgotten in a world we can feel is quickly changing. It is no small feat to make something that feels authentic and Hell Or High Water feels as real as the Texas justice that drives its story.
Toby (played by Chris Pine) and Tanner (played by Ben Foster) are brothers who have recently taken up robbing banks as a pastime. Toby is the more straight laced brother, while Tanner is an ex-con. Together, they are out for their own brand of justice against the bank they believe wronged them. They devise a plan to rob the bank's branches early in the morning and only take untraceable bills. Their goal is to raise enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage on their late mother's house.
The film's backdrop is a North Texas landscape littered with the impacts of foreign wars and a severe domestic recession. It has clearly changed very quickly in a way people are still coming to terms with. Couple that with the complex racial history of the region where so many Native Americans were killed, and the ground under the movie's feet is a perfect, albeit unfamiliar to many, microcosm of Americana.
After robbing a few locations, they attract the attention of local law enforcement. Specifically, a buoyant Texas Ranger with a penchant for casual racism named Marcus Hamilton (played beautifully by Jeff Bridges) is on their heels. Hamilton is being forced to retire because of age, so this is his 'last ride' of sorts. As he starts to notice patterns in the brothers' behavior, he tries and tries to get one step ahead of them. This game of cat and mouse continues until an epic standoff that gives everyone the conclusion they've been marching toward.
While the film is full of thrillingly tense scenes and close moral questions, the thing it does best is blur the lines between people an institutions in a way that makes you question right and wrong. One of the film's strongest moments comes as Hamilton surveils a bank with his partner, Alberto Parker (played by Gil Birmingham), who is of Comanche and Mexican Heritage. The pair discuss the history of the country in a way that is both critical of our traditional historical narratives and illuminative of the parallels one can see in today's headlines. The scene works because Hamilton's Archie Bunker-esque attitude makes it easy to see what is off in the way we commonly think of Native Americans.
And while the film offers loads of unexpected value beneath its expansive dusty exterior, it also manages to be a taught crime drama, a thoughtful family drama, and a commentary on ever-shifting social norms. The film's central theme is an almost No Country For Old Men redux--it is a meditation on what it means to age and watch the world change around you. Jeff Bridges is just sublime as the man whose world has moved out from under his feet, only to be replaced with a new world he is not quite equipped to operate in.
I went in expecting 'good' and walked out with little doubt what I saw was 'great.' The film is sure to be one of the year's very best and deserve everyone's attention.
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