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Hell or High Water (2016)

Hell or High Water

Ben Foster and Chris Pine star as brothers in “Hell or High Water”.

Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie, is another great film that I walked in knowing virtually nothing about (something my dad always liked to do). All I knew about it was the stars, and it was about two brothers who had to rob banks.

That is putting it very mildly. Set in West Texas, the brothers are Toby and Tanner Howard. The younger Toby (Chris Pine) is divorced, trying to make something for his sons to live on. His older brother Tanner (Ben Foster) is recently out of jail, and…well, to say he is reckless is a gross understatement.

The film opens with them having to rob a couple of banks. We learn this is because of a plan Toby had after the bank foreclosed on their land (to be honest, I do very bad with banking terms, so I could be wrong). The film eventually becomes a great game of cat and mouse, as they are pursued by soon to be retired Marshall Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who (as Hamilton loves to point out) is part mexican, part American Indian.

That is as far as I will go with the plot, except to say it is a refreshing feeling to know some screenwriters in Hollywood can still give us screenplays that are original and intriguing. My hats off to the screenplay, done by Taylor Sheridan (his only other credit was last year’s underrated gem, Sicario.)

There are two main reasons to see the film. The first is the chemistry Foster and Pine have together as the brothers. While Pine’s Toby is clearly the brains behind the plan, it is also clear he may not be cut out for this sort of thing at the moment (unlike big brother Tanner, who relishes in all of it. The exception is when they make a gas station stop). Still, Toby is determined, and is beyond convincing to quit. It is also visibly clear that these two still love each other, and are really the only person each other has left in the world.

The other reason is Jeff Bridges. I am starting to believe that Jeff Bridges is becoming one of the few actors in Hollywood that is impossible to dislike (think Tom Hanks or Morgan Freeman). His character is able to spit out racist comments one moment to his partner, but you know that it is not because he is a bigot. It is a performance that I fear will be overlooked at Oscar time, which is a shame, because it deserves recognition.

Parents, the movie does have one sex scene (just after Tanner is talking to a pretty girl at a welcome desk), but it is blurry and out of focus (still audible though). The language is what you would expect in an R rated film, and there is some violence. Basically, the rating is justified, though very mature teens may be ok.

For those who can handle it, and wish to see a film with powerful acting, a gripping story, and stunning visuals, look no further than Hell or High Water. In a summer of some forgetful films (though I did not see all of them), Hell or High Water is one of the few diamonds in the rough.

Overall: Four Stars ****

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