Audiences might scoff at the term “western” as it is a genre that has primarily remained in the realm of independent filmmaking for the better part of the last two decades (with notable exceptions, of course). Over the years, the western has tried to shed its historical casing while trying to maintain its core themes, and many filmmakers have succeeded in doing so with varying degrees of success. Scottish director David Mackenzie’s “neo-western” Hell or High Water is the latest in a string of modern-day tales, and it does not disappoint in the slightest.
Set in the small towns of Texas, Hell or High Water revolves around two brothers attempting to steal enough money from the bank that’s trying to take away their family ranch and the feds chasing after them. Kicking off with a bank robbery, the film blows by with the pacing of a high-speed thriller that occasionally settles down to focus on both the brother’s ever-changing relationship, and Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) the Texas Ranger with one foot into retirement who wants one last ride.
Crackling with tension and action, Hell or High Water does not simply apply to action junkies—no, there’s much more underneath that comes out thanks to the incredible performances from the three main actors. Foster, who is just one of many of the great underrated actors working today, gives a volatile and entirely unpredictable performance as the ex-convict, Tanner. At first glance you probably wouldn’t want to spend five minutes in a room with the guy, but Foster teases out just a little bit of humanity in him, offering up little quips that makes him just that much more bearable, even though you know he would pull the trigger in a heartbeat if you slighted him.
Pine, on the other hand, gives his most impactful performance to date. Shrugging off his blockbuster persona, Pine proves himself to be a formidable screen presence. Caught between his love for his brother and his love for his family, Pine’s Toby is a man caught between a rock and a hard place. Having never been like his older brother, Pine spends the movies trying his hardest to put out every fire his brother creates, even if it means sacrificing his sons and his ex-wife to do so.
But, in the end, it’s Bridges who gives the most devastating performance despite the whole overly-cliche “cop at the end of retirement” schtick. Wrestling with feeling no longer needed, he fears the rocking chair on the porch more than two brother’s with guns—which sends him off in desperate pursuit to catch the two men so he can hang up his hat with pride instead of shame.
Set amongst the barren lands of central Texas, Hell or High Water also boasts exceptional cinematography from Giles Nuttgens, who captures a certain sense of desolation and abandonment in areas of the state that have faced the most repercussions from the economic crash.
If you thought the western was dead, you thought very wrong—Hell or High Water brings it roaring back to life with emotional performances, a gripping story, all while placing itself within more relatable contexts. If you’re tired of the disappointing summer blockbusters, track this movie down and give it a shot—it’s far better than anything you’ll be seeing otherwise.