I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys. Not anymore.
Divorced father Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-convict brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) begin a series of bank robberies in an attempt to save the family ranch. Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (the always superb Jeff Bridges) and half Mexican, half Native American Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are on the chase. It’s a simple enough set-up but director David McKenzie (The Last Great Wilderness, Asylum) has some fun with it anyway. (One robbery goes awry because a bank customer is carrying and fires off a few rounds at the thieves as they try to flee.) McKenzie also brings out unexpected nuances in the characters. Pine delivers his best performance yet and Foster’s a revelation.
Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham
Poverty itself is a character in Hell or High Water and racial tensions are never far below the surface in the West Texas communities we see here. Marcus mercilessly ribs Alberto over his heritage and in a sequence at an Indian casino, we learn that the true meaning of Comanche is “enemy to everyone.” In this land where the cowpoke legend lives on, a number of citizens are more inclined to side with the outlaws rather than the Marshalls; especially given their targets are the same banks who’ve been bleeding the community dry for years. Viewers feel this way as well and can’t help rooting for Toby and Tanner too – at least at first. McKenzie has a habit of subverting people’s expectations in films and he does so here as well, as the true cost of the Howard boys crimes becomes clear. With Hell or High Water McKenzie gives us a take an on the classical Western that both honors the traditional mythos and yet still seems fresh.
Photos courtesy of CBS Films
Top: Ben Foster and Chris Pine