Review: Hell or High Water

Who doesn’t love a good Western? A classic American tale set in the untamed frontier about a clash between a sheriff, a cowboy or a lawman against an outlaw, a Native, or a man looking to kick up a little trouble in a sleepy town holds mass appeal for film lovers but I’m not talking about a “vintage” Western ala High Noon, Unforgiven, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, True Grit or Hang ’em High.

Set in modern day West Texas, Toby and Tanner Howard are venturing into a new enterprise: bank robbing. The brothers take it upon themselves to settle their late mother’s debt and prevent Texas Midland Bank from foreclosing on their family farm and they set out to rob branches of Texas Midland Bank and use the money they get from their heists to pay off their loans.

The activities of the Tanner Brothers don’t go unnoticed. Soon-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his partner Alberto Parker are on the trail of these mysterious bank robbers and are intent to deliver justice upon them.


Image by CBS Films

This is the plot of the contemporary western Hell or High Water, directed by David McKenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan, screenwriter of Sicario. My late father loved a good western but Hell or High Water is not a good western. Hell or High Water is one hell of a western!

This was what I’d like to call a “can’t miss movie” and this summer, a movie of Hell or High Water’s caliber has been far and few between. Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Dale Dickey lead this exemplary cops and outlaws film, featuring Jeff Bridges in rare form, Chris Pine who delivers his best performance that I’ve seen and a solid performance by Ben Foster.

The shining star of Hell or High Water isn’t any of the actors though. The man who steals the show is none other than screenwriter Taylor Sheridan.

There is no doubt that Sheridan planted his own personal stamp on this tale of family and justice and did so with cunning, wit, bravado and expert craftsmanship. The idea for the Howard Brothers to steal from the banks their family owes money to to repay them, is a stroke of genius; no doubt that Sheridan is still riding the wave of success he rode when he crafted the framework for Sicario and the writing for Hell or High Water is just as impactful.

There is no doubt that this is one of the most original films of the year, perhaps the best written film I’ve seen since Zootopia.

David McKenzie did a fine job directing this movie. I would argue that maybe the directing was good because he had an awesome screenplay to work with but the directing of this movie can certainly be regarded as top-class. This is certainly a high-point for McKenzie as well as films released in 2016 because the plot and how the plot unfolded on screen held your attention and doesn’t even bother to let go.

Does this mean that Hell or High Water is 2016’s Sicario? I can’t say for certain because even though the writing is similar they are different films with different tones but I am certain that this should be recognized as a sensational film as Sicario was.

The supporting cast including Buck Taylor, Paul Howard Smith, Kevin Rankin, Margaret Bowman, Marin Ireland, John-Paul Howard, they’re essentially extras but they do their utmost to lift the core cast as possible and they are effective in their brief but significant roles.

Technically, this is a well put-together movie. Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography is well-done; I specifically enjoyed the opening of the film with that intricate tracking shot of the parking lot, serving as a sort of scouting the area technique, for the brothers before they rob their first bank.

The editing flowed seamlessly between the brothers and the rangers. Jake Roberts did a fine job of balancing between the subplots between the lawmen and the outlaws without giving too much or too little to anyone. I also particularly liked how well-executed the shootout sequence was. Going back and forth between Tanner scoping and shooting the police while Marcus was getting into position to scope and take out Tanner was smooth.

Tom Duffield’s production design was sharp, Steve Cooper’s art direction was good, the costumes of Malgosia Turzanska added to the authenticity of the film, this movie certainly went the distance to deliver a vintage western level of authenticity and that authenticity was rich in my opinion.

I consider Hell or High Water a sleeper film for any awards, but hands down, this was an original movie that I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the theaters and see. Hell or High Water certainly is one of the best films of the year and a genuine western through and through.


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