Directed by David Mackenzie
Hell or High Water is a true modern western. A genre that’s received a boost over the last few years and, with the success of shows like HBO’s Westworld, is seemingly making a bit of a comeback. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play hard on their luck brothers in this film with a relationship that felt genuine, but also too often resembled something you might see from the Winchester brothers on CW’s Supernatural. A somewhat formulaic take that puts two brothers together on some kind of mission with almost entirely opposite personalities that balance each other’s weaknesses to make a great team. A brotherly Yin and Yang if you will. In this version it's Ben Foster playing the hot headed older brother with Chris Pine filling the more thoughtful younger role. Fortunately for us, even with such cookie-cutter main characters, the movie thrives on its western look and feel and leans on a scenery-chewing Jeff Bridges to pull it out of the Texas dust and into an Oscar nomination.
The thing with Hell or High Water is that it embraces so many Western clichés and gets away with it. I already mentioned the brotherly relationship but even Bridges character, Marcus Hamilton, is as clichéd as it gets. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a ready to retire Texas Ranger, with an ethnic partner, gets tasked with one last case but he doesn’t play by the rules and it’ll take his old-school intuition to take down the bad guys. So, yea, in a lot of ways this movie isn’t treading a lot of new ground but it still manages to work.
The Robin Hood-esque tale of the two brothers trying to save their family’s ranch feels right at home in both a classic western and in this modern climate. It does an amazing job of balancing that classic feel with a contemporary story. The almost buddy cop dynamic between Bridges and his partner is a lot of fun and although crass, gives the movie some levity. But one of the strongest elements of this film is its West-Texas setting. It’s almost its own character and it’s dusty back roads and small towns are as important to the movie as Jeff Bridges or Chris Pine. Over the course of the film we are treated to some stunning vistas and big skies, but it’s the shots of boarded up buildings and the interactions with the different townsfolk that make you truly understand the world that shaped and drives these characters.
Like any cops and robbers tale, Hell or High Water has its fair share of tragedy, but it also manages to deliver a relatively happy ending for both sides. Which is a rare feat in this type of movie. With many of the Oscar nominees being a bit dower this year, Hell or High Water strikes a fine balance and is overall a fun modern take on the classic western.
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