“Hell or High Water” is a tale of two well-written stories that run parallel to one another – One about a tired generation of farmers looking out for their children so they don’t have to go through the same sorrows they did, and another about an aging Texas Ranger looking for one last chance for glory before he retires. All while having a “No Country For Old Men”-esque style, tone and pacing, giving the characters plenty of time to think about the wrongs they’ve made to get where they are.
Brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) are about to lose their land to the bank, having just lost their mother and putting down a reverse mortgage to cover the medical bills. But after Toby finds out there is a large oil deposit underneath the farm, he is dedicated to paying off the mortgage by any means necessary. Toby contracts Tanner, recently released from prison, to help him rob banks of their small bills until they make enough to pay off the mortgage.
Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is close to retirement and hears about several banks being robbed, making this his last case. Marcus is able to deduce the Howard brothers actions and seems to be behind the two every step of the way.
Perhaps “Hell or High Water” feels so much like “No Country For Old Men” because of the Texas atmosphere, taking place mostly in rural country towns, where everyone is doing their best just to survive. It might be that both films are about aging police officers hunting down criminals who always seem to be on the run, someone they can never catch. But I think it has to do with the similar theme of confusion and worry for the next generation.
“No Country For Old Men” was about how the criminal mind had evolved to the point where we couldn’t calculate or understand it. That criminals were no longer looking for something, but just wanted to invoke chaos and anarchy. They want to see others suffer, just because they could do it. Similarly, “Hell or High Water,” is about how the banks, a system sworn to protect and safeguard the people of Texas, has been stealing everyone’s money and forcing them out of them own homes. The banks have become so greedy, that they only see their clients as their next cash cow.
This is helped by the many vacant or run-down houses Marcus and his deputy come across during their travels, with rusted or broken-down cars and not a soul in sight. The deputy, who is part-Native American, gives the speech about how his ancestors land was stolen, and now the children of those thieving ancestors are getting their land stolen as well, except this time it is the bank that is stealing.
This makes Toby and Tanners crusade so fascinating. The two are only stealing money from the bank that holds the mortgage on their land – They intend to pay the bank back with their own money.
While a heist movie at its core, “Hell or High Water” is a piece filled with intriguing characters, mostly looking for their place in the world. There are no major gun-fights until near the end of the film, so if you expected a rough-and-tough shoot-em-up action piece, you’ll have to look elsewhere. What you’ll get instead are some well-acted scenes between Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who always have this friendly-yet-physical relationship, as well as Jeff Bridges wondering what he’ll do with his life after the chase has ended.
Overall, I enjoyed “Hell or High Water” for its world building and making this rural land look like it was once a wonderful place to live, but has been destroyed due to a cancerous economy. In a way, the film is about the remnants of that old world looking to build a better world. This is a smart, beautiful and well-written piece that I wouldn’t mind watch again.
Final Grade: A-