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Hell or High Water - Review

Hell or High Water

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DAVID Mackenzie follows up his excellent prison drama Starred Up with the similarly striking heist movie Hell Or High Water.

Playing like a cross between the Coens’ No Country For Old Men, for the way in which it examines contemporary morality, and classic Westerns, this is an utterly compelling tale that resonates on many levels.

When the bank threatens to fore-close on their late mother’s farm, divorced father Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) stage a series of heists against various branches of the same bank, in a bid to provide Toby’s own sons with the financial security he never had.

But they are pursued by dogged Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges, who is determined to outwit the brothers before retirement forces him to hang up his hat.

Written by Taylor Sheridan (of Sicario fame), this shares both the moral and ethical complexity of that film, as well as the acerbic wit and biting social observation.

The notion of what constitutes good and bad is particularly under scrutiny here, with the banks the most obvious villain. Yet for all of the right surrounding their sympathetic cause, Foster’s wild card Tanner still remains a volatile proposition, whose methods frequently threaten to divert audience sympathy. And it’s his recklessness and bursts of violence that threaten to upset Toby’s plan.

Foster, of course, is a past master at playing things unhinged, yet clearly relishes the opportunity to play with the machinations of Sheridan’s script. He is undoubtedly psychopathic at times, yet he too has been scarred by a tough upbringing, while his loyalty and love for his brother is never beyond question.

Pine, meanwhile, channels Toby’s inner turmoil well and appears the more level-headed of the two, yet leaves viewers in no doubt that he can handle himself when things get tough. It’s a career best performance from the actor.

And then there’s Bridges as the grizzled ranger… a gruff, intelligent, even frustrated man whose age has finally caught up with him, but whose sense of right and wrong remains as strong as ever, coupled with a wily brain capable of mixing it with the best criminals. His banter with his Native American partner (played by a similarly excellent Gil Birmingham) is another of the film’s many delights.

Mackenzie allows plenty of room for all of his performers to make their mark, but keeps the film taut and the action muscular, thereby leaving audiences thirsting for more. But while the bank robberies are well executed and the final confrontations suitably well orchestrated, he also leaves room for a memorable final exchange between Bridges and Pine, which once more highlights the quality of Sheridan’s writing.

Hence, Hell or High Water emerges as a film that’s as thrillingly articulate as it is clever and expertly executed. And given the way that it effortlessly combines classic Western conventions with sincere contemporary resonance, it looks destined to become a modern classic – and deservedly so.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 102mins
UK Release Date: September 5, 2016