Review: Hell or High Water, A Fantastic Modern Western

Last night I attended a screening for Hell or High Water and I had a great time watching this film. The film first premiered back in May at the Cannes Film Festival and had a limited release on August 12th and will get a wide release this Friday, August 19th. Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham and was directed by David Mackenize.

Synopsis:

The film centers around two brothers: Toby Howard (Chris Pine) a divorced father, and his ex-con older brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster).  A few weeks before the events in the film, the brother’s mother has passed away and left the family’s West Texas ranch to Toby and his sons. Unfortunately, the ranch is being foreclosed and in order to save it, the two brothers commit several bank robberies. As their spree continues, two Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) who’s forced into retirement and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are hot on the brothers’ tale. With the brothers close to reaching their goal, one robbery goes awry resulting in violence, a car chase, and a final showdown.

Five Things From the Film That I loved:

  • The cast:

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This cast did an excellent job. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine are two of my favorite actors so I definitely wanted to see this film. I love that Chris wanted to take on this role in addition to other meaty roles and isn’t interested in being typecast. Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham also brought their A games in this film. Both Foster and Pine were previously in the film The Finest Hours, and they worked really well together in that film as well as in this one. The brotherly love between the two characters that they played was real and genuine. The same can be said of Birmingham and Bridges characters. Whether they were bickering back and forth, being snarky towards each other, or being serious and talking about the dangers of their job, their partnership was real. There was real affection for each other and that was important to note especially when a critical scene occurs towards the end of the film.

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  • Humor

From beginning to end, humor is placed at the right moments throughout the film. Some might not like the off color racial jokes from Jeff Bridges character Marcus Hamilton, but otherwise the humor was very good and well done.

  • Action

The action in this film is phenomenal, granted this film isn’t an Michael Bay explosion fest type of action film, although there is one explosion in the movie. When I say action, I mean from start to finish, the story moves right along-the pacing is great, the choice of camera angles-especially the opening scene-were well chosen. There is no lull in or between scenes, even in scenes where the characters are just sitting having a beer and talking. In addition, as I watched the film I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I was surprised many times as the story moved from beat to beat and didn’t see certain moments coming. Nothing was too obvious and what I thought was going to happen, often didn’t which was great.

  • The story/setting/dialogue

Hell or High Water is a  bank robbery movie, a buddy movie, and a road movie all rolled up into one, but underneath its surface, the film’s also an examination of the passing of the Old West. The Western is one of my favorite film genres, and in my opinion this film is a modern western.

The story is set in modern day West Texas in various small towns where the recent economic crisis has hit residents hard. Aside from the obvious themes of cowboy hats, horses, and wide open plains, awareness of the treatment of First Nation peoples and women are touched upon in subtle ways in a few parts of the film.

It’s also an exploration of the American Frontier, as in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan (who grew up in Texas) stated the following: “My intention with these three was to kind of explore the modern American frontier and how much has it changed in 130 years, how much hasn’t it changed and how much are we seeing consequences of that still.”

The dialogue is another example of this as in the same interview Chris Pine described the dialogue as cowboy poetry of the script. “This film is about men relating to men and seeking intimacy, failing at intimacy, trying to articulate their love and affection for one another but desperately unable to do so,” Pine said. “Oftentimes they find themselves filling space and time with silence and ways around saying what they want to say.”

  • The Soundtrack

An important component to any film, is the soundtrack and the music used in Hell or High Water was used to brilliant effect.  The music was scored by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have previously scored together films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Proposition.

The soundtrack features several original tracks by the duo in addition to music by Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Chris Stapleton, and others. In an statement made to NME back in July, director David Mackenzie had this to say about Cave and Ellis’ music for the film: “What I love about Nick and Warren’s film music is that it’s epic and expansive without being grandiose. For me as a filmmaker this hits a sweet spot where the score is able to have scale and emotion but not feel manipulative or overwhelming.”

The music featured in the film meshes well with how the story is being told, and not one track felt out out of place and the soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to.

Conclusion:

Overall though I enjoy my comic book films, Hell or High Water is a much needed breath of fresh air in this summer of films. The director, cast and crew did an awesome job of telling this story of two brothers. I definitely enjoyed watching this film and would rewatch it again. I’m giving Hell or High Water an A+.

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