Hell or High Water (R)

Every once in a while I come across a movie that I do not realize I like as much as I do until I begin to write about it, like The Lobster, which I wound up giving 10 out of 10 bloops.  Something about the process of writing allows me to examine the movie more closely; to think about the movie and all of its moving parts and how well those parts fit together.  It usually happens when I really like a film that is thoughtfully made and has a lot of subtext, strong characters and an intricate story line, and this is what happened, unexpectedly, with Hell or High Water.

In Hell or High Water, Toby, a divorced dad of two (played by Chris Pine) and his recently released from prison brother Tanner (played by Ben Foster) resort to robbing banks in order to save their West Texas family ranch.  The banks they rob are branches of the bank that issued the mortgage loan on the ranch.  They must have all the money owed to the bank, “come hell or high water,” by Thursday to avoid foreclosure.  That means an entire week of bank robbing will be taking place on a very tight schedule so they can meet their goal.  And so the adventure begins.

Hell or High Water is billed as a criminal drama but plays like a western, set in dusty, open carry state Texas with rangers, cowboys and even “Indians.” It is a super bro movie with the two brothers as bros, being pursued by bros/Texas Rangers Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Parker (Gil Birmingham).  Then, as the two law enforcement bros pursue the outlaw bros, more bros join in, and it becomes a regular “bro-fest.”

Chris Pine does a solid job as the nicer, smarter, seemingly more level-headed of the two villains. He is the alleged “brains” behind the operation and provides a good contrast to his wild brother.  Ben Foster is outstanding and steals the show as this misunderstood, impulsive, ne’er do well ex-con who is willing to do anything for his family and to save the family ranch.  Jeff Bridges does a great job playing a sometimes comedic, crusty but smart Texas Ranger slated for retirement within a month, pursuing these two during their bank robbing spree.  And Gil Birmingham plays a great counterpart to Bridges character as the butt of his insults and the man who knows him best.

Hell or High Water is smart, funny, suspenseful, and adventurous. It is a movie that does not appear to take itself too seriously and provides a true sense of fun to the audience while also demonstrating a lot of conflict between and among nearly every character; the two brothers, the two law men, the lawmen and their waitress, the lawmen and their witnesses, the wild brother and a Native American at a casino, the wild brother and a prostitute at the casino, the brothers and the bank, the townspeople and the bank – the list goes on and on.  It is these conflicts that give the film its depth, without making the subject matter feel too “heavy.”  The movie strikes a fine balance between humor, adventure, conflict and violence.  All the moving parts fit together extremely well.  It is well written with rich dialogue that is intricately woven among these multifaceted characters, making it more interesting than your run-of-the-mill, tough guy western.  Even the bank becomes its own character along the way.

Hell or High Water isn’t without problems, but the problems are small.  Just the cut of two super short scenes and one line would have made this movie even stronger and more enjoyable, but that is just my opinion, and it is certainly subjective.  I don’t do spoilers, so I can’t really go into the scenes or the line, but lets just say, sometimes less is more and with a script and acting this strong, extras become quite unnecessary.

Hell or High Water earned 9 out of 10 bloops. It has been out for about six weeks.  I wish I could have gotten to it earlier because it is a mostly light-feeling, perfect-for-summer movie that is well acted, written and directed and not too long.  If you enjoy movies with bank robberies, gun battles, explosions and car chases, you might want to check this one out.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  Even if “shoot ‘em up” movies are not your thing, I think you will enjoy this one because it is so thoughtfully made.  At the very least, when it comes to cable or streaming be sure not to miss it.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

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