November 27, 2016

Hell or High Water

David Mackenzie, 2016
There was the period in time in the first half of the 20th century where the Western genre dominated movie screens. Many viewers could vicariously live the life of a Ranger; preserving justice and maintaining order the small dust-ridden towns. In 2016, we look back on the genre with nostalgia but that plot model is certainly passe. Those are generations gone. The prosperity isn't so obvious. The future doesn't show as much promise. The modern day America is built for a different type of Western that meet the screen.

Hell or High Water is a Southern Gothic / Neo-Western set in West Texas that is constantly looking back. Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is looking back on his long career that is about to end, much to his dismay. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is the future; but even he is looks to the past. He looks around the town filled with run down strip malls and recognizes it as a place his family owned before it was taken from them. The town doesn't stop with the run down strip malls. The sidewalks are empty, there's an obvious sense of desperation. 

In the middle of the forlorn town are brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) who have decided to rob banks to come up with the money to save their family ranch from foreclosure. Very ironic; stealing the money and giving it back to the very people who you took it from - just in a different setting altogether. This is a concept that comes up a few times in the film, with some peripheral characters understanding and even supporting the brothers' actions. There's not much certainty in High Water though. You never feel certain that you are witnessing what will be a successful bank robbery. The brothers are impulsive and not always on the same page. But watching them is tense and riveting. Watching Marcus' skillful but relaxed pursuit is compelling in its own right, watching a tired expert just work on instinct. Not surprising at all if Jeff Bridges gets an Oscar nod for his performance here. Somehow he is able to bring an original and fresh character to the screen this late in his career. While actors like Pacino are bringing caricatures, Bridges is still bringing new characters. High Water is a slow burn that exudes something solid and impactful. Solid filmmaking, solid writing, solid performances. It offers characters are not black and white by any means, and instead are all intricate in their own ways. 

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