Movie Review: “Hell or High Water”
Hell or High Water
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? Rob every local branch of Texas Midlands Bank (the bank that handles the mortgage) 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. Marcus Hamilton is struggling with facing retirement, so he wants to close a big case like this to end his career. Marcus has the support of local law enforcement, but the Howard brothers only have each other. They are all desperate, but who has what it takes to see their mission through?
The Pros & Cons
Jeff Bridges (+8pts)
The Plan (-3pts)
Chris Pine & Ben Foster (+10pts)
Western Grit (+5pts)
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 is at the end of his career and is seeking some action. He is trying to end his career on a high note while also prolonging his retirement.
Throughout the movie, the character struggles with old age, and reflects on his life and career up until this point. There is a big inner battle going on in the character’s head, as he comes to terms with his mortality, and Jeff Bridges made this interesting to watch. He was not the main character of this story, but Jeff Bridges gave a strong performance that made the character feel relevant. It was simply entertaining to watch him in this movie.
Con: The Plan (-3pts)
One part of this movie that I could not quite get my head around, was the brother’s plan. They have a large plot of land and a family farm that the bank wants to foreclose. What is the best course of action? Rob every branch of that bank until they come up with enough money to pay off the mortgage. Really? That is the best plan they could come up with?
Could they have maybe used the land and it’s resources to make honest money? It just always seemed like there were other ways to get out of the situation that did not include such a high risk. This made it a little difficult to get behind the brothers’ desperation because it always felt like there was another way, and that the brothers put themselves in this situation unnecessarily. Did I get past this eventually? Yes, but it definitely took a bit longer than it should have.
Pro: Chris Pine & Ben Foster (+10pts)
There is no doubt about it, these two actors (specifically Ben Foster) were the best part of this movie. The actors did great things together and great things individually. I bought these characters as brothers due to the very natural chemistry between the actors. Together, as brothers, these two characters did not need to say much to convey their bond to the audience. You could feel the brotherhood between them, and it created some riveting storytelling. The movie is at its best when these characters are together on screen. The filmmakers and the actors really created the vibe that family is incredibly important to these two characters and that they would die for one another.
Chris Pine did a great job at conveying the weight of his character’s situation. He wants to do what is best for his sons and that motivation lands with the audience. You care about the character because you care about what he is fighting for, and Chris Pine was responsible for making the character so effective. Then there is Ben Foster. What can I say? This guy did an amazing job in this movie.
What was written as a fairly one-dimensional character, was given so much depth thanks to Ben Foster. There is so much unspoken conflict within this character. He just got out of prison, but is willing to risk his freedom to provide for his brother and his family. The character does not get a ton of development, but Ben Foster makes the character (arguably) the most fascinating part of the movie.
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 is, but it follows 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), you are probably correct.
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 really felt like a western. The action felt real and gritty, and the characters had a ride or die mentality. That is to say that their desperation and pride made them willing to risk everything. Say what you will about the setup of these characters and how believable it is, but the filmmakers were able to capture a rugged, real, heavy tone for this movie. If you are looking for a modern take on a western story, it does not get any better than Hell or High Water.
Con: Boring (-5pts)
The characters are interesting, but there is a lot of dialogue that does not seem to serve a purpose. It just drags the movie out, and slows the movie down. It is either the Texas Rangers talking to each other, or the brothers talking to each other. The actors do their best to keep the movie interesting, but it just felt like the filmmakers were trying to draw out the film’s runtime. The result is a movie that gets pretty boring in some areas. Thankfully the movie was able to rebound from these boring sections.
Grade: B+ (86pts)
Hell or High Water has plot issues, but the performances are outstanding, and are able to make up for that. The filmmakers slowed the movie way down in some areas, and delivered heavy dialogue that will bore audiences, but the movie is able to rebound from that. The setup has some holes in the form of the characters ignoring logical solutions to their problem that do not require high stakes, but the movie is able to rebound from that as well. How does the movie rebound? Through great performances and a compelling tone.
The movie is set in modern Texas, but it very much feels like a western. The action is gritty, and feels very real. This is combined with great characters, and better performances. The three main characters are understandably desperate, and it is easy to relate to what they are fighting for. The two brothers have a compelling bond, and the antagonist, Marcus, has motivations the audience can get behind. The characters are written well, but it is the performances that drive these characters home. It is not a perfect movie, but it is definitely worth checking out.