From Starfleet captain to bank robber, Chris Pine has been busy.
Hell or High Water (2016) is a western heist film directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan. It stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as Toby and Tanner Howard, two brothers who are being hunted by a soon-retired Ranger Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) for a string of bank robberies in West Texas.
This is a modern western in the truest sense – a film in love with the open space of the frontier, while also aware of the destruction of manifest destiny by the strangling grip of corporate America. Working as a great companion piece to the equally excellent Bonnie and Clyde, Hell or High Water is a marvellously written and thoughtful film. On the surface it boasts a steady pace, some great characterisation and a story that comfortably reveals itself over its running time – but underneath that layer is a quiet intelligence that allures the viewer to consider it far more thoughtfully than the typical heist film. Sheridan wrote last year’s excellent Sicario, and all those impressive flourishes are once again present in High Water, firmly establishing the man as a screenwriter to watch.
Director David Mackenzie also has an equally deft hand over the direction of the film. The camerawork is a technical marvel – from long, rotating shots, to several exhilarating sequences in a car, and all topped off with some impressive cinematography, Mackenzie is clearly experienced in making a film visually interesting. He also intelligently gives the film room to breathe, in a move that many modern action directors would be averse to. While some may call the film slow-paced, I prefer the term steady. It allows Sheridan’s writing and characterisation to really show off and contributes to the overall feel of thoughtfulness this movie presents.
Chris Pine impresses in a the lead role – he plays a far cry from his usual bombastic persona, but sells the quiet regret and focus of Toby Howard excellently. Ben Foster however outshines his co-star as his slightly deranged brother Tanner in a role that while is rather showy, also allows Foster to flex his dramatic muscles on several occasions in a performance that I believe is Oscar worthy. Its a wonder that Foster’s other choice film for this year is Inferno. The man clearly has hidden talent that his current filmography does not express.
The rangers hunting the two brothers also are worthy of a mention. While Jeff Bridges basically plays ‘Jeff Bridges’, incomprehensible growl and all, it works in the context of the story by both selling the film’s touches of wit and working as a callback to the classic westerns High Water owes many debts to. His partner, played by Gil Brimingham, has come a long way since his work on Twilight. While the spotlight is mostly hogged by Bridges, the man has a wonderful rapport with his co-star that turns his character from a forgotten support into someone you care about.
Easily one of my favourite films so far this year, Hell or High Water has the technical pedigree, impressive script and powerhouse performances to deserve all the critical praise it has received. Intelligent, dramatic and with a dark wit, this is a cowboy drama that I’m very happy hasn’t been forgotten by modern cinema.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Must-see
Winner of the 2016 Batsie awards for The Underdwellers and The Forgotten.