Hell or High Water
It seems like only recently that I wrote my review for Midnight Special that I thought it was going to be a very tough movie to beat this year. It hit all the right notes for me – great acting, intriguing story, fascinating characters, a little bit of mystery, humor, and a beautiful ending. I am now happy to say that I firmly believe I have seen the best film of 2016. I caught this in limited release, looking for a good bank robbery movie with Western overtones. I would have been happy to watch a good, suspenseful film like that…but I am happy I got much more than that. In an especially underwhelming summer with next to zero original films, this is certainly a breath of fresh air.
The film opens with a great 360 shot setting up the mood and place of this West Texas tale. Two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) arrive early to the bank on this particular morning to harass the two employees and rob it. The story of these two brothers and their pursuing lawmen, a nearly-retired Sheriff (Jeff Bridges) and his half-Indian partner (Gil Birmingham) unfolds in a slow and steady manner. Not everything is spelled out for you and most of the characters’ history is told through their performance and actions, but never will you be looking at your watch. Writer, Taylor Sheridan, penned last year’s tension-filled actioner, Sicario, about the war on drugs – puts his skills to good use and once again gives us a compelling crime drama.
This is a smart and captivating film, reminiscent of the 70s era of filmmaking in the vein of The French Connection and Dirty Harry. While it’s more character driven than action-packed, it is not without its intensity or sense of humor. I was honestly surprised at how often I laughed throughout the film, Foster and Bridges in particular give the film a much-needed laugh during some intense sequences. As the two lawmen, Bridges and Birmingham have a great rapport together and it’s a joy every time they are on screen. While they do spend most of the time one-upping each other in insults, there is a natural camaraderie between them – same goes for both Pine and Foster, who really feel like brothers by the end. Pine’s Toby is the film’s heart and soul. Much of the film depends on his performance and while it’s very different from his usual characters, I doubt there is anyone else better suited for the role. Gone is his natural charm, infectious charisma, and swagger from his Capt. Kirk in the recent Star Trek films. Here he is low-key and plays the beat down screw-up-trying-to-help-his-family to perfection. It’s a powerful and understated performance. In a perfect world, he would have some awards coming his way. Although, apart from possibly the film’s gorgeous cinematography and timely script, I don’t know if this will get the recognition it actually deserves – much like Sheridan’s Sicario.
If you are tired of all of the sequels and comic book movies out right now, please search this one out. It may not be easy at the moment (saw it opening weekend, August 13th), but I really hope this gets a wider release as it is hands-down the best film I’ve seen so far this year. This is a great contemporary American western – a fun, tense, and satisfying time at the movies. I doubt I will see a more well written, perfectly acted, beautifully shot, and absorbing piece of cinema this year.
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes