HELL OR HIGH WATER [2016]

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Directed by David Mackenzie

Written by Taylor Sheridan (screenplay)

Starring: Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham


Shout out to Tom over at digitalshortbread for putting this on my radar months ago. It finally hit our cinemas last month, and after a second viewing, it has lost none of its bite, both thematically and otherwise.

This movie says a lot while delivering an extremely entertaining experience filled with memorable dialogue and some wicked humour. The film starts with a bang as two men rob a bank, and as soon as the action starts, it is immediately clear how well written this film is.

The two men who rob this bank are brothers, and their extremely opposite personalities lend a ton of character to the film. As cliché as it is, blood is thicker than water, and despite a questionable past in which the two have obviously disagreed over the years, the brothers are willing to do anything for each other.

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Older brother Tanner is a loose-cannon, one year free from a ten year prison sentence, with more than a few screws loose. His younger brother, Toby, is a polite southern gentleman, and again this contrast of personality makes for some great moments, as their attitudes towards life, their values, they couldn’t be further apart. But they are brothers, and the unconditional love one has for a sibling truly shines through this violent, Texas-based neo-western. The way they tease each other is just one source of many laughs.

After they hit a second bank, local sheriff Hamilton and his partner Alberto are called in to take the case, as the brothers aren’t taking large amounts of cash, meaning higher authorities have much bigger flies to swat. Again, the difference in personalities between the two cops make for entertaining viewing, especially as Hamilton – three weeks from retirement – loves to make casually racist remarks about his partner’s Native American heritage, while the mild-mannered Alberto tries his best to ignore the remarks, while firing back at his partner with his own zingers.

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The two policemen mirror the two brothers in a way, as both pairs willingly rip into each other, with insults flying both ways. Their bonds are tight enough though that no insult is going to result in the holding of a grudge, and both pairs care deeply about each other, whether they’d like to admit it or not.

The obvious question posed to the viewer from the opening scene is – why are these two robbing banks? Tanner obviously does it because he is insane and enjoys it, almost seeing it as a game, but his brother couldn’t be more uncomfortable, especially when he sees his brother become violent. The post financial-crisis background, where we also see struggling farmers, may have something to do with it, but unlike 99 Homes, this theme isn’t overt, it is comfortable in the shadows, allowing the viewer to take it or leave it. There is also a theme of poverty running through the brothers’ blood, Toby at one point referring to it as an inheritable disease.

As for the final act, it is executed perfectly, with some action packed, bullet-riddled scenes and a belting climax that isn’t only entertaining as all hell, but it also packs some emotional heft. The very last scene ends on an interesting note, giving the viewer much to chew on once those credit roll.

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With some fantastic characters and needle-sharp dialogue, this film is certainly entertaining. Adding further to this potent cocktail is some six beer(1)incredible photography shot in New Mexico, not to mention a fantastic soundtrack comprised of appropriately southern songs along with an original score written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who now have several soundtracks under their belts. As the credits roll, the track Outlaw State of Mind by Chris Stapleton couldn’t be more appropriate. Is this film flawless? Probably not, one could argue that it offers nothing new to the genre. But it is executed so damned well, I can’t find anything to dislike about it.

Fans of No Country For Old Men need to check this film out immediately.

A full sixer.

6/6