Review: Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-waterOh, I know what it’s like.  You’re reading someone’s new blog. You don’t know the writer.  So, first off, you’re thinking that the writing might be really bad. They might be an idiot.  And then you realise you’ve no idea what their film taste is like either. If they even have any taste.   And the review you’re reading is pretty gushing.  It gives a film 5 stars out of 5.  They call it ‘one of the films of the year’.  And you think, are they right?


Hell or High Water revolves around two Texan brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who decide to rob banks in order to they save their oil-producing ranch from being taken by those very same banks.

It’s a smart concept brought to life by a trio of superb performances.

First off, Ben Foster and Chris Pine are completely believable as the brothers; down on their luck, desperate for something to cling to, but fiercely protective of each other.  Ben Foster manages to stay on just-the-right-side of likable as the chaotic, dangerous, Tanner while Chris Pine anchors the film as Toby, the smarter, more cautious of the two. I must admit that I didn’t expect them to impress as much as they did, but they’re terrific, career-best performances.

It’s the job of the third main character in the film, Jeff Bridges’ Sheriff Marcus, to catch the robbers.  Except catching them means ushering in his impending retirement, a situation that’s he’s none-too enthusiastic about. Like the brothers, Marcus is trying to ignore the emptiness just around the corner.  And yet, his interplay with put-upon deputy (Gil Birmingham) helps to lighten the mood throughout; keeping the story from becoming too morose or introspective.

It’s a film that revels in characters generally – from those three beautifully rounded main players to the bit part and cameo roles.  Not only are they all perfectly played, but they all feel authentic, injecting additional energy and pathos to the story.

Of course, the real Big Bad of the film is the banks.  It’s the banks that have their boots on the necks of the Texan working people, and it’s all the working people can do just to save themselves from being crushed underneath.

In the trailer, the message seemed a bit too thickly-laid.  A 90 second clip was swamped with images or dialogue that made the theme of the film a touch too clear.  Thankfully, over the running time of the film the message is sufficiently diluted that it feels important, but not overwhelming.

The film’s soundtrack is another reason why Hell or High Water deserves all five of its stars.  Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is brooding and melancholic, much like their previous scores for The Road and …Jesse James, and hints at the drama to come as the film draws to a close.

And it’s a genuinely tense last 20 minutes that we watch as the brothers’ plan comes to a climax.  There’s also an unusual – and deliberate – feeling that you don’t want either party – the brothers or the two policeman chasing them – to lose.

After a few months of stolid blockbuster dreck, Hell or High Water is a welcome entry to late-summer’s schedule.  A sharp, often funny, script with tremendous performances and a worthwhile message means this’ll go down as one of the films of the year.


Rating:  5*****


So, you’re reading this review.  And you think to yourself, ‘I should really watch this film and see for myself’.  And then you’ll realise I was right after all.  And maybe you come back here someday.



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