Hell Or High Water
The open spaces of Texas roll on as far as the camera sees in what seems enough land for everyone to stake a claim to prosperity on. Then you are reminded by the endless stream of foreclosure signs, closed businesses and debt related advertisements that only a few people control all that space and they are busy choking the hope out of everyone else.
Few movies envelope the cinematography into a storyline and even less do it as brilliantly as Hell Or High Water. In a cross between The Big Country and 8 Mile, the camera shows us an America where people from once prosperous rural and middle class areas have roots but whose decline is seldom discussed in polite circles. The camera offers a sense of whole generations being swallowed up by the vastness of despair. The images on the screen are, in the words of star Jeff Bridges' character at the end, "Going to haunt you for the rest of your life."
You know a movie's script is exceptional when you can pull whole lines from it and have serious discussions around those lines. While this may seem like a simple tale, it is not. The symmetry presented in this script - well, frankly, I'm envious.
An example of this is how the plight of Native Americans is interjected into the story, and then you realize the Mexicans suffered a similar fate and now the descendants of European settlers are being overtaken by the next predator in line - banks. But in that vein of symmetry, there is a hint that banks are already themselves being overtaken as well. In a way, it is Darwin's survival of the fittest, Texas style.
Some of the best stories are also ambiguous in their take on morality and Hell Or High Water is definitely in that category. This movie will have you questioning right and wrong in life. Sit in the seat and watch this plot unfold but ask yourself, what would you do? I suspect you'll find a troubling darker side to yourself.
There isn't a bad acting performance in this movie but for me, the guy who should top any conversation for Supporting Actor Oscar is Ben Foster. He and Chris Pine play two brothers who are sent on separate paths in life by a tragic event in their youth. Yet, they've come together for a few days to accomplish one dangerous goal for the sake of the next generation. Foster plays the 'bad' brother who has spent as much time in jail as out. Yet, he isn't over the top in his performance and his character is relatable. I found it a mesmerizing portrayal.
Chris Pine rises to the occasion as well, as a man with a troubled soul struggling with that moral conflict I referred to earlier. You see his transformation as the plot unfolds and I have no doubt he'll be Oscar nominated as well.
Jeff Bridges takes a different spin on his Texas Ranger character who is days away from retirement when he is put on the trail of the two bank robbers played by Pine and Foster. He is showing his age but he so incorporated it into his character that it fit and added another layer the scriptwriter surely appreciated.
The villains of this story are the banks. We see constantly how they have in real-life devastated the personal hopes and dreams of ordinary people. There is no hyperbole or propaganda here. The production team didn't need that. All they had to do was show Texas as it is to drive home the point. And ironically, I am writing this on a day when the CEO of Wells Fargo faced Congress defending his banks opening of thousands of fake accounts to defraud people. Thousands of employees have lost their jobs over the scandal but not a single executive.
Hell Or High Water is billed as a modern Western. Texas seems to be a good setting for these as Lone Star and No Country For Old Men also come to mind. They are modern Westerns because our wild west is no longer cow pokes shooting it up on Fremont Street but rather every man fending for himself against the cartels (legal and otherwise) that have overrun our homesteads built on good faith. On a rating scale this is 5 out of 5, but if I could give it more I would.