‘HELL OR HIGH WATER’ (2016) MOVIE REVIEW – A Western that Doesn’t Need Big Action to Stand Out
‘Hell or High Water’ is a Western Crime Drama that substitutes the large scale chaotic shootouts for great character depth and exploration of character relationships. Starring Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, and Ben Foster this film follows two brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) robbing banks to set up a better future for themselves, but they soon find themselves being tracked down by rangers Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham) who are going for one last hunt before retirement. Performance-wise this film shines above most others to have released this year, as you completely bought into the characters at the forefront of the film and you believed the authenticity and history of their relationships without seeing any of it. Pine and Bridges especially are the standouts on either sides of the law. From a story perspective it was great to see a contemporary Western film take advantage of the characters they have and really delve deep into who they are and let those relationships and actions drive the course of the film. Because without engaging, and entertaining characters there is no reason for investment in any shootouts that may or may not occur.
The character centric nature of the film is what makes it so compelling for so long. On one hand, following the lives of these two brothers and seeing how they connect and clash with their different personalities and values offered a very complex look at these characters. Are they good people? Are they doing it for good reasons? Are they hurting people for the fun of it? Exploring all of these questions throughout the film put you on a journey with these two who you may grow to love or hate with time. And then you also have the film focusing on Marcus and Alberto and their journey just casually investigating some bank robberies and tracking down the brothers. This was a relationship that was also just as interesting as that between the brothers but for very different reasons. The way these partners go back and forth, throwing friendly insults and butting heads but ultimately tolerating each others company was a nice comparison and contrast to the relationship being shown with our bank robbers.
The slow, gradually intensifying pacing did a good job at keeping you interested for the majority of the film but could have done with a little bit of a kick somewhere in the middle of the film. It noticeably slows down for a 20 minute interval around half way through, and some of that period of time did have some interesting character dialogue happening but it was starting to lose me a little. It does then pick back up and finish very strong which was really good to see it not continue to slow down and fizzle out in the end which was a fear for around 10 minutes.
As i mentioned the performances in this film are definitely some of the strongest of the year, and although it may be a little early to tell, i wouldn’t be too surprised if one of them gets a nod at the Academy Awards. Chris Pine for me was the strongest of the bunch, seeing him play a very subdued role and a different role to what he is typically cast in was very refreshing. He didn’t once break character and when the movie started i thought i was going to be distracted seeing him in this Texan role but he worked his magic and i completely bought into him as this character. Ben Foster also should be recognised because he plays well together with Pine and the back and forth conversations they have are interesting on their own. Jeff Bridges is playing a character that he has more or less played in many other Western/Crime films but he is just so good in the role that you wouldn’t want anyone else.
So ‘Hell or High Water’ is a really solid film that is very well crafted and features great all round performances and a very compelling character centric story. You get on board with these characters and are on a journey with both sides of the law so you feel a connection with both sets of characters making pivotal moments in the film that much more intense.