Posted Sep 13 2016
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Hell Or High Water - This Post-Financial Crisis Neo-Western Really, Really Rocks

Dir: David Mackenzie
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham 
 
David Mackenzie’s latest is a contemporary western about a west in danger of disappearing, if it hasn’t already. It is an involving low-key drama and a fine character study, a film redolent of both its locales and environment, as much as it is of its time and timely subject matter.

Pine and Foster are brothers, the latter wayward, the former trying to find a means to provide for his estranged family, the two of them opting to rob the bank that is about to rob them of their mortgage, stealing just enough to be able to pay it right back to the bankers and carry on with their lives. It is set in the barren landscapes and prospects of West Texas, but in many ways it is set in the majority of modern day America, where the financial crisis has left many a family bereft and adrift, cut off from what they once had and everything they hoped for. But it is never really bleak, merely understanding. The people who populate these small towns have come to terms with their existence. They know their modern world is dying just as sure as the few remaining cowboys on show here know it has already gone.

Jeff Bridges is on hand as the Marshall determined to catch these small-scale bank robbers, and is in such fine form here, as to make you think the word “Oscar” more than once. As the brothers, Pine excels – he’s never been better in fact, and Foster, with the more potentially one-dimensional role, acquits himself admirably. (Birmingham too does a good job as Bridges’ much maligned half Native American-half Mexican-all Catholic sidekick.)

The movie has a strong sense of foreboding to it that makes it impossible to fully root for either side, providing a sense of ambiguity that all actors fully inhabit. Interestingly, it shares more than a passing sense of inevitability with a film from Bridges’ earlier days, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which gives an added poignancy to seeing Bridges here in his more twilight days.

Hell Or High Water is a modest movie that speaks volumes, full of detail of character and landscape, with a tremendous sense of location, both visually and emotionally. It also boasts three of the best performances of the year. And a note-perfect ending that leaves things just as they should be.

 

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