Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Hell or High Water (R)

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Starring: Jeff Bridges
August 2016

The below comments (in Black) were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appear @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation (in Red). For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Hell or High Water
The “no bailout” graffiti is telling. #NoBailout
“All you’re guilty of right now is being stupid.” Ha! #BungledHeist
Bury the car, bury the evidence. Clever.
“Tweakers don’t sleep, they just...tweak.” LOL.
“Ain’t one drill the same as the next?” #ThatsWhatSheSaid
Second car buried. How many vehicles do these guys have?
“Kicking around skulls.” The origins of #Soccer.
“What don’t you want?” This waitress is a hoot.
Large crowd in the Post bank. This can’t end well.
Roadblock. Intense scene.
“Lord of the plains.” #FamousLastWords
Great acting in the final scene with Pine and Bridges.
Final analysis: though the premise is well worn, the acting is superb & the cinematography is gritty real.
3 out of 4. A dusty drama with a strong sense of place and an Oscar worthy performance by Bridges.

As exemplified in silent masterpieces like The Great Train Robbery (1903), heist films have been with us since the inception of cinema. The tone of such films can be elaborate, like in The Italian Job (1969, 2003) and Ocean’s Eleven (1960, 2001), intricate like Mission: Impossible (1996) and Entrapment (1999) or intimate like Thelma & Louise (1991) and Drive (2011). This offshoot of the thriller genre has remained popular throughout the decades and seems to find new scenarios despite its well established conventions. The new bank robbery movie, Hell or High Water, resembles the buddy movie model in Thelma more than the team approach featured in the Ocean’s series. This movie’s pilfering partners happen to be brothers, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster). What incites the film’s robbing rampage is twofold: 1. Toby’s pressing need to support his family, and 2. Toby and Tanner’s desire to buy back the family farm from the bank after their mother dies. On the right side of the law is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a Southern fried law enforcer who talks like he’s got a perpetual wad of chaw in his mouth and who walks around like he’s got a load in his pants (witness him running toward the motorcade during the movie’s climactic action scene for a prime example of this). Though a bit of a fuddy-duddy (with racist tendencies) Marcus is a shrewd old agent, skilled at anticipating the next move of the perpetrators he’s pursuing, which sets up a rather riveting game of cat-and-mouse with the Howard boys and serves as the backbone for the film’s narrative. Bridges has tapped into some of his recent roles for inspiration for his character here: Marcus is roughly 80% Rooster Cogburn from True Grit (2010) and 20% good ole boy Roy from R.I.P.D. (2013). This is a measured performance that only misses fully realized status due to the screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s negligence in providing Marcus with a substantial back story. Still, Bridges’ acting is utterly captivating and should garner a serious look from Oscar voters. Pine and Foster are also very effective at bringing their respective roles to life as two brothers on completely different life journeys—Toby turns to a life of crime for the sake of his family, Tanner engages in illegal activities simply for the thrill of it. In the end, each of the brothers gets exactly what he deserves. Also serving as inanimate characters in the film are the authentic looking Texas towns and landscapes (which were actually shot in New Mexico) and the skillful way such stark, yet strangely beautiful, locations are framed by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. Director David Mackenzie has presented a somber and atmospheric on-the-run adventure that’s enjoyable as much for its acting as for its story and settings. The straightforward storyline is extremely deceptive since it contains a good deal of character subtext and several unexpected turns along the way, especially the ironic coda, which reveals that a greater fortune than the one the Howard’s stole has been right under their noses all along. Ultimately, the film isn’t earth-shattering, but, as a hayseed heist film populated with superb performances and gritty real locales, it certainly isn’t a bad way to spend two hours.