Sunday 6 November 2016

Film Review: Hell or High Water

A bleak and authentic modern western that doesn't take crap from nobody - David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water is hands down one of the best films of 2016.

Two Texan brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), find themselves struggling to raise the cash needed to save their family farm from being repossessed by the bank. Tanner, a career criminal with a background in bank robberies, formulates a plan that sees the duo careen across Texas hitting as many branches as they can before the due date - a scattershot tactic that inevitably draws the attention of ageing sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his chipper partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

Hell or High Water dispenses with cheap gimmicks and Hollywood showmanship. It isn't glamorous or flashy; just a hardboiled, no-nonsense modern Wild West noir that shoots for the moon and sticks the landing.

I really liked Pine as the scraggly deadbeat dad who walked out on his wife and kids; it's always refreshing to see an actor step out of their comfort zone. Toby is a strong, calculating silent type who isn't entirely comfortable with the helter-skelter route his life has suddenly taken, but finds himself swept along all the same. The opportunity to play a morose and moody character doesn't come around very often for a handsome leading man like Pine, which explains why he applies himself to the role with such earnest.
Bridges is also superb; he fits the I'm-too-old-for-this-shit role like a glove and it would've been all too easy for him  to phone it in. However, the screenplay allows much more than just dry quips and grumbling from the veteran actor, instead bulking up his role with satisfying depth and complexity for Bridges to delve into.

Foster and Birmingham are ace too; the former continues to prove himself as a chameleon character actor who totally commits himself to anything he signs on for.

So whilst Hell or High Water is propelled by these four excellent performances, it's Taylor Sheridan's screenplay that ties it all together. Much like Sheridan's previous work on Sicario, the screenplay here is watertight and compelling from the get-go. The film contrasts two complex brotherly relationships with one another before wrenching them apart, all set against the bleak post-GFC backdrop of a dilapidated and dismal West Texas.

An original score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is the sweet, sweet icing on the cake. It perfectly captures the mood of dour desperation and wistful gloominess that Mackenzie and Sheridan are aiming for.

So if that's the icing on the cake, we also have to talk about the cherry on top - the absolute belter of an ending. The final scene of Hell or High Water is up there with some of my favourite from the year. Few films end on such a tonally pleasing note, but Hell or High Water is perfectly captures everything it is in this memorable, engaging final scene.

The Verdict: 9/10

Hell or High Water is excellent across the board; the acting, directing and writing are all top notch stuff that intertwine to create one of the best modern Westerns and definately one of the best films from 2016.

Hell or High Water is in cinemas across Australia now


  1. Great review, man! I loved this movie. It instantly became one of my top few of the year. On top of everything you said, it also is such an honest tribute to the dying American small town. A very harsh true thing that doesn't get near the respect it deserves.

  2. I'm glad you liked this too. This film really surprised me, I never expected to like it as much as I did. I really hope they push Foster for Supporting Actor instead of Bridges though, he's far better.



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