Hell or High Water Plot Summary:
Toby Howard (Chris Pine) inquires the help of his hot head, outlaw brother (Ben Foster) to go on a string of low key bank robberies so Toby can pay off a multitude of debts and provide for his kids. They are chased by a local ranger (Jeff Bridges) who’s dreading his impending retirement.
It’s fitting I see Hell or High Water a week after Suicide Squad. One is everything wrong with filmmaking, including a disastrous script and scatter shot editing. The other is text book, and nearly flawless. Hell or High Water won’t go down as the best film of the year, but its execution is perfect. The script is lean. Nothing is over explained. Every scene serves a purpose. The characters have substance. The motivations are simplistic. In the summer movie season, this is like leaving the smog filled city for a beautiful camping trip outdoors. Pure nature.
The story is as old as time. Two brothers rob banks. One is smart, doing it for his family. The other is a rebellious moron doing it for the thrill. They are chased by that guy who is one day away from retirement. The end. While cliché, it’s executed so damn well. The brother relationship fires on all cylinders, played by two extraordinarily underrated actors. Chris Pine is having a hell of a year. It won’t be for this film, but he’ll be nominated for an Oscar at some point in his career. He knows how to carry a movie on his shoulders. Without doing much, you always know what he’s thinking. You want to root for him. He’s the prototypical protagonist.
Ben Foster is equally as compelling as the risk taking, screw up brother. You’ve seen this character before. While frustrating and dumb, he cares whole heartedly for his brother. That’s why you like him. It’s very reminiscent of Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in The Town. Foster nails it. Their relationship is certainly contentious, but their final scene together is very powerful.
Anytime Jeff Bridges is in a movie, it puts a smile on your face. Even in garbage like The Giver from a couple years ago, you’ll always take Jeff Bridges. This is a vintage Jeff Bridges performance. Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton, a ranger clearly good at his job, but who’s been consumed by work his entire life. He gets that one last job before he spends the rest of his days sitting on a porch. It’s a very sad character. The guy who steals the movie though is his partner, Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham. Their dynamic is beautiful and hilarious. It’s almost like a subtle, toned down version of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence form Bad Boys. They constantly break each other’s balls. At times it’s a little over done, but it’s the true heart of the movie.
The screenwriting by Taylor Sheridan takes everyone to school. The dude knows how to foreshadow, holy matza. Sheridan also wrote Sicario. If you want a no non-sense script, hire this man. The directing by David Mackenzie is equally as impressive, including a tense finale. There’s a moment where Ben Foster’s character walks out of his car with a gun. The way it’s shot and edited, you know it’s game time. The film in general is beautifully shot, and could potentially be in contention for Best Cinematography.
My only real gripe is the very ending, which is a tad clunky between two of the characters. For as great of a writer as Sheridan is, this could have been tightened up. Chris Pine does deliver one hell of a speech that sums up his entire purpose beautifully. This isn’t a movie that blew me away, but if you appreciate great filmmaking, go see it. It also gives me a weird appreciation for Texans. After one of the bank robberies, the townsfolk don’t even think about it. They chase after the brothers with their guns loaded, determined to take these bastards down. I know gun debate is a huge topic right now, but this scene made me chuckle.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)
======================================================================================================Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.