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Movie Review: “Hell or High Water”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 8/26/2018

Theatrical Release: 8/26/2018

Synopsis

After the passing of his mother, Tony Howard (Chris Pine) learns that the bank that handles the mortgage on his parent’s family ranch intends to take the property through foreclosure. Toby is a divorced father of two sons, and does not intend to let the bank take his family ranch so easily. His brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), has just been released from prison and the two hatch a scheme that will let them keep the family ranch to inevitably pass down to Toby’s sons. Their plan is to rob every local branch of Texas Midlands Bank—the bank threatening to foreclose the property—until they raise enough money to pay off the mortgage.

Meanwhile, a Texas Ranger named Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is nearing retirement. He thinks that catching the Texas Midlands Bank thieves would end his career on a high note, as he is struggling with facing retirement, and thinks closing a big case like this would end his career the right way. He has the support of local law enforcement, and the Howard brothers only have each other. There are desperate men on both sides, and there is no way for everyone to get what they want. Things will surely come to a head, and the only question is: how many lives will be lost in the process?

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Jeff Bridges (+8pts)

The Plan (-3pts)

Chris Pine & Ben Foster (+10pts)

Predictable (-4pts)

Western Grit (+5pts)

Boring (-5pts)

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Pro: Jeff Bridges (+8pts)

I did not expect to like Jeff Bridges’ character as much as I did. The writing for the character was strong, but Jeff Bridges did a great job of bringing this compelling character to life. The guy was at the end of his career and he was having a life crisis of sorts, and he feels that cracking this case will be what will allow him to retire with pride. If the case ends up prolonging his retirement in the process, then so be it. Throughout the movie, the character struggled with old age, and he reflected on his life and career up until this point. There was a big inner battle going on in the character’s head, as he came to terms with his mortality, and Jeff Bridges made this a lot more interesting to watch than I thought it would be. He was not the main character of this story, but Jeff Bridges gave a strong performance that made the character feel relevant and crucial to this story, and I really enjoyed watching it.

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Con: The Plan (-3pts)

One part of this movie that I could not quite get my head around was the brother’s plan. They had a large plot of land and a family farm that the bank wanted to foreclose on. Their solution was to rob every branch of that bank until they came up with enough money to pay off the mortgage. Really, that was the best plan they could come up with? Could they have maybe used the land and its resources to make honest money? It just seemed like there were countless other ways to get out of the situation that these characters found themselves in, but they kept choosing the path of most resistance. This made it a little difficult to get behind the brothers’ desperation, because it always felt like there was another, easier way out of their predicament, and that the brothers put themselves in this situation unnecessarily.

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Pro: Chris Pine & Ben Foster (+10pts)

There is no doubt about it, these two actors were the best part of this movie. I bought these characters as brothers due to the very natural chemistry between the two actors in the roles. I could feel the brotherhood between them, and it created characters that I really enjoyed seeing together on screen. Chris Pine did a great job at conveying the weight of his character’s situation. He wanted to do what was best for his sons and that motivation was easy to connect with. I cared about the character because I cared about what he was fighting for, and Chris Pine was a big reason why the character was so effective.

Then there is Ben Foster, who I thought did an amazing job with his character. What was written as a fairly one-dimensional character, was given so much depth thanks to Ben Foster. There was so much unspoken conflict within him, and Ben Foster masterfully brought his internal struggle to the screen, and it was absolutely captivating. He just got out of prison, but he was willing to risk his freedom to provide for his brother and his family. The character did not get a ton of development, but Ben Foster made the character the most fascinating part of the movie for me.

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Con: Predictable (-4pts)

It was pretty easy to see where this story was going. With the Texas Ranger as desperate as he was, and the brothers as desperate as they were, there was really only one way for this story to end. I will not give away exactly what that ending was, but it followed a pretty cookie-cutter western storyline. I will not say much more about it, just know that if you have a guess as to how this movie will play out—regarding the fates of Toby, Tanner, and Marcus—know that you are probably correct.

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Pro: Western Grit (+5pts)

While the storyline was that of a pretty cookie-cutter, predictable, western, I did enjoy the western tone. It was a modern story, but it felt like a true western. The action felt real and gritty, and the characters were willing to risk their lives to get what they were after. Say what you will about the setup of these characters and how believable it is, but the filmmakers were able to capture a rugged, gritty western vibe for this movie. Some say that the age of good western movies is over, but I do not think that is true. I just think we are waiting for good stories set in that classic western vibe, and while I thought this story could have benefited from being less predictable, it was still a decent story, and it felt like a real western.

It had slow burn character stories, it had bank robberies, it had building tension, it had multiple shootouts, and it had a final showdown where the main characters came face to face. The only difference between this movie and your classic western story is that your classic western typically has a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling, evil antagonist. In this movie, the antagonist varies depending on which character you treat as the protagonist in any given scene. It made for an interesting movie, and it made for a heated final confrontation that made the movie worthy of being called a modern western.

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Con: Boring (-5pts)

The characters were interesting, but there were a lot of dialogue heavy scenes that did not seem to serve a purpose. They did not really further the story, or entertain the audience, and really just dragged the movie out, and slowed the movie down. It was either the Texas Rangers talking to each other, or the brothers talking to each other. The actors managed to keep these scenes at least somewhat interesting, but the result was a movie that got pretty boring in some areas.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B+ (86pts)

Hell or High Water had some plot issues, but the performances were really strong. The filmmakers slowed the movie way down in some areas, and delivered heavy dialogue scenes that will bore audiences, but the movie was able to rebound from these scenes through its interesting characters and interesting modern western vibe. The setup had some plot holes in the form of the characters ignoring logical solutions to their problem that did not require high stakes. That being said, the characters were interesting enough to get me to look past those decisions.

The movie was set in modern Texas, but it very much felt like a western. The action was gritty, and it felt raw, as raw as you would want your western action to feel. This was combined with compelling characters, and strong performances. The three main characters were understandably desperate, and it was easy to relate to what they each were fighting for. Chris Pine and Ben Foster had strong chemistry, which helped me buy into their strong relationship as brothers, and Marcus had motivations I could pretty easily get behind. The characters were written well, aside from the horrible decisions that were necessary to make the movie happen, but it was the performances that drove these characters home. It admittedly had its slow sections, but it was one of the better westerns that I have seen in a while.

Comments

Sam Shepards from Europe on November 26, 2018:

I liked this movie, but my expectations were a little to high I guess, but still decent flick!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on November 26, 2018:

This sounds like an interesting film. I love Jeff Bridges, so shall check this one out. Thanks for the review. =)

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