Hell Or High Water is not a movie that should have been made. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, because I fucking loved this movie. But in the era of sequels, prequels, pre sequels and superhero movies, Hell Or High Water stands on it’s own and isn’t afraid to do so.
In and amongst the huge summer blockbusters and the production companies behind them, toil (it seems) a group of directors who quietly go about their work and to me, seek no real attention. Of course praise is great and they want audiences to see what they’ve created, otherwise press junkets wouldn’t exist. I guess what I’m trying to say is these movies are substantive. Steve McQueen, Barry Jenkins, Jim Jarmusch, Noah Baumbach, Jeff Nichols-All talented directors (and writers) who tell intimate stories full of life. Stories full of realized characters and quiet moments punctuated by brief acts of extreme violence. Hell or High Water is one of those movies, Tyler Sheridan is one of those writers and David Mckenzie is one of those directors.
The entire film is a slow burn. Even when violence erupts, it carries with it this awkward realistic gait that seems to occur when average people turn to darkness to achieve their goals. There are no protagonists, no good guys and bad guys or people to root for. Just human beings trying to stave off a desperate situation, and those forced to stop them.
As a brief synopsis goes, two brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster try to save their childhood home from foreclosure, by robbing local banks. Casted perfectly as the highway patrol men tasked with catching the duo are Jeff Bridges and his partner played by Gil Birmingham. Bridges essentially plays himself, a mumbling cop on the verge of retirement who exchanges some fantastic dialogue with Birmingham who shares a begrudging respect for his partner. What could have been a cliched relationship seen in so many cop films, is portrayed with nuance and experience that only two veteran actors could really offer the roles.
The story takes it's time exploring the causality of our actions and to me, how the American dream never existed and instead concocted a lie connected to our very existence. The writing is so good you can tell Sheridan knew people like this. He went to school with these characters, he knew cops like these. And Mckenzie behind the camera is patient, letting scenes play out, with no unnecessary camera angles or jump cuts in the action.
Speaking of action, the robbery scenes are intense and at one point downright comical. There’s a great tracking shot with the brothers in the midst of a getaway, with both Pine and Foster selling the reluctant and empathic robbers. The entire film is washed in tones orange and the colour of dead grass. You feel thirsty just looking at the screen.
Hell Or High Water is a somber movie, whatever that really means these days. It depicts a reality that far too many people know far too well. It’s a film about desperate men put into a desperate situation and spends it’s time understanding their reactions.
It’s certainly a mood movie, as in a happy jubilant mood will not mesh well with Hell Or High Water. But if you’re looking for an introspective character film with bouts of humour and extreme violence, Tyler Sheridan's modern western is definitely worth your time.
Hell Or High Water: Go watch it already.