Hell or High Water

Throughout cinematic history, sibling relationships and tensions are fertile ground for a multitude of films. The bonds that bind brothers, family and friends are at the heart of David Mackenzie’s (Starred Up) bank-robbing action drama.

It opens with two brothers haphazardly robbing a bank in a small town  in West Texas. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) has enlisted the help of his paroled brother, Tanner (Ben Foster) to assist him with a financial problem. Their solution is to rob banks. Toby is about to lose the family farm, due to the illness of his mother and the inappropriate banking practices of Midland Texas Bank.

The underlying motivation to keep the farm is to care for his estranged family and to retain the oil rights of the land. With the bank about to foreclose on the farm, the Howards work to rob the banking system that has caused so much strife for their family over the years. They systematically begin the life of holdups in order to pay off the bank, but in the process they unwittingly get the attention of the seasoned Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who is on the verge of retirement.

The veteran law enforcement officer is looking to end his career on a high note and looks to track down the these desperate Texan boys.

Honouring the bank robbery films of the westerns of the past, Hell or High Water is fascinating depiction of the human experience, an unexpected moral conundrum and a healthy dose of reality to both sides of the law.

Audiences may not be familiar with the work of David Mackenzie, but this independent film director has an uncanny knack of working with exceptional acting talent and getting great performances from these players. He manages to prove these skills once again with this journey into West Texas.

Mackenzie capitalises on Jeff Bridges’ ever reliable presence on screen and is adequately placed as the suitable foe to these troubled siblings. His performance embodies the racial edginess of previous generations of law enforcement at a time when people based their decisions on relationships and their instincts more than technology. This strong performance from Bridges was not a surprise, but did help to complement one of Chris Pine’s best performances. His brooding on-screen presence and nuanced brokenness manages to portray the desperation that would cause a man of his nature to break the law. This is strengthened with the ever reliable [index] presences of Ben Foster. Their relationship maintains the subtle elements that tie brothers together despite the issues from their past.

These performances are only as good as the script that supports them and Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) has provided exceptionally well crafted writing for this acting crew. Through these performances, the script and the overexposed lighting of the camera work, Sheridan manages to show the desperation of the men on both sides of the law. He manages to show that they are influenced by living in the harsh atmosphere of the western Texas desert. Every component of small town America, from the people who inhabit them to the leathery disposition that it develops is depicted with exceptional accuracy. Mackenzie manages to show this with disturbing accuracy through the bank customers responses to being robbed to the sorrowful lifestyles of the wait staff at the local diners. There are no holds barred when it comes to the very real portrayal of the language, racism and violent tendencies of this area of the world.

All that being said, this film is a film worth seeing, if only for the sake of seeing a great story, exceptional performances and a depiction of real life that will make anyone appreciate what they have been given.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

Where can we find peace in the life? Hell or High Water opens and closes with the notion that mankind attempts to manufacture this in our life. Taylor Sheridan brilliantly shows how people try to find peace in money, revenge or even through death and how they all end up being futile. This cinematic portrayal comes to a similar conclusion found to the musings of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament of the Bible. Showing there is nothing new under the sun, even the West Texas sun. The only thing that is different is that in the final chapter of Solomon’s writings there is an answer to where peace can truly be found.

Passages from the Bible that on show where to find peace in this life:

The Book of Ecclesiastes, John 16:33, Romans 15:13

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.