Review: Hell or High Water

Directed by Starred Up’s David Mackenzie and written by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan, the film follows two brothers, one divorced dad Toby (Chris Pine) and one ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster), who plan a series of heists to rob the banks that are threatening to take away their family ranch in West Texas. The only one who might foil that plan is Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

Pine and Foster create a fantastic brotherly bond here, the on screen relationship between the two of them is perfect, entirely believable and simply superb to watch. Separately, they each play rather different sides of the same coin, Pine does extremely well here as the father wanting to provide for his sons, his physical appearance is weathered and worn which makes him much more believable as your average working Joe. As well as Pine’s acting being on top form, it doesn’t feel that often that we get to see him in a role that has a rather large range but he’s definitely capable of more than just being eye candy or action fodder. Foster has in his 20 years of acting managed to appear in a vast array of different films, not all of which give him credit for his talent but here as the wilder of the two is excellent, he gives a great mix of anger, crazy, funny, dangerous and charming, leaving you never knowing what he might do next and yet almost as loveable as his gentler brother. Bridges and Birmingham have a perfect banter, a classic love-hate police partnership that compliments the relationship between the two brothers perfectly, as the film moves back and forth from one pair to the other. Bridges is of course not unfamiliar with a role like this but you still can’t help but love it, he’s giving everything of that character that you could want. Then there’s the cherry on top, as the film progresses there are several smaller parts but the brilliant writing of Sheridan, gives each of them their moment to shine, none of them miss a beat and even if they only have a couple of lines, each have their own personality, it’s absolutely terrific.

The story realistically is fairly simple, you get what it says on the tin but for this particular film, it’s more than enough, it doesn’t need any unnecessary twists and turns to try and wriggle reactions out of an audience, it does that already. The most surprising factor about the film is just how funny it is, it has such a quick wit and sharp tongue, that you wouldn’t have expected from a film about two destitute brothers robbing banks but it’s full of humour, to which credit has to go again to writer Taylor Sheridan. Though it does have that humorous streak running throughout, there’s still a tragic feel to it which keeps its feet firmly on the ground. The film is also perfect for its setting, the small towns add a lot visually while not taking any focus away from our two protagonists. It also has just enough grit to keep it feeling more real, not quite to the point where you think this could be happening right that second somewhere but enough to prevent it from becoming too fantastical because this is a very human story.

It’s a wonder to see two film-makers come from such dark projects as Starred Up and Sicario and take just a pinch of that darkness, enough to add some weight to a film that, in  the wrong hands, could have been something more silly and easy to throw away. Mackenzie as director has managed to make a film that fits perfectly into its setting, something which he’s managed well before, but especially considering he comes from Northumberland, far from any part of Texas. It’s a great choice of actors, it’s well written and directed, it’s touching and funny and realistically there’s just nothing to complain about.

Verdict: 8.5/10

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