“You would have the right to shoot me,” Jeff Bridges drawled near the end of Hell or High Water. Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton, Texas Ranger, just three weeks away from retirement and pretty much what you would expect when you open the dictionary to ‘grizzled’.
With the brash remake of The Magnificent Seven on the horizon, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water has beaten them to the knuckles turning into one of the best westerns since the Coen brothers created their own monumental cat-and-rock game. mouse over a similar game. Texan arid scrub.
Hell or High Water is directed by brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively, as they rob a series of banks in part of Lone Star State. Pine is slim and terse, occasionally throwing himself into crackling electrical thunderstorms when his mood soars. Foster is the wild card. “How did you stay out of jail for a year?” Pine asks in wonder at one point. “It was tough,” Foster admits a little sheepishly.
They are raising money to buy the family ranch back from the bank, which will close the property at the end of the week. Instead of black hat bandits, we have adapted to bank managers; fountain pens for six shooters.
Mackenzie’s Wild West is no less ruthless than the one to which John Wayne brought his own justice fifty years ago, but this time the enemy does not come screaming and screaming. “I’ve been poor my whole life… it’s a disease,” Pine pronounces with quiet resignation, and we see the evidence in the billboards of debt services and quick loans, which are bursting bubonically. along the highway. This film is as much a harsh invective against a system that drives good men to desperate acts as it is a story as old as Cain and Abel.
It’s an indicator of hell or high water intelligence that he can give himself a half-smile without ever compromising the fierce integrity of his central message. Jeff Bridges’ partner is Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), half Comanche and half Mexican and therefore subjected to twice the light racial abuse Bridges inflicts on him. Parker reminds Bridges that this land was stolen from his own ancestors not so long ago, and there isn’t a small degree of satisfaction when he watches the descendants of these thieves have this same land taken away by a vortex swirled by their own greed.
Oyou are two pairs of cops and robbers put on a fantastic performance quartet. Bridges is, of course, a magnetic presence, with squeaky bones and a sardonic wit that barely covers his obvious dread that soon he will have nothing else to do but sit on his porch and watch the world go by. . Pine is the most remarkable, all black eyed and uncompromising jawbone, a man who has planted his feet against the world and has no choice but to keep his face turned to what he decided long ago. was the right thing.
Around them is an orbit of wonderful minor figures; waitresses, cow-punks and gamers, who bring these two-horse towns and intermediate roads to life. Taylor Sheridan (who also wrote the screenplay for Sicario) has a knack for natural and engaging dialogue that it also broadcasts among everyone involved. Hardly any scene happens that doesn’t contain at least one great line, and he has a former actor’s eye for when silence can say more than dialogue.
And like Sicario, it’s a film that knows how to let the landscape become its own character. It’s not just nature, endless plains and billowing smoke from distant forest fires, it’s diners and tarmac and steel windmills howling in the breeze. Maintaining such a tense thriller with such a fully realized sense of place is harder than it looks – most of the big-budget deals come from the directing school “Walk past the Eiffel Tower during a shootout.” – but by allowing the environment to unfold so languidly, with a few perfectly insightful vignettes, Mackenzie succeeds.
It’s a film as thin as the barrel of a gun, with a fearless lens and the cinematic intelligence to follow it. The title is the worst thing about this movie; in all other respects, it’s a strong contender for the summer movie. 4/5