I have heard a few people refer to this movie as “Oscar bait”. Quite honestly, when I first heard about this film, I just assumed it was some average movie that somehow nabbed a few famous actors to star in their film.
Much to my surprise, this movie is actually amazing.
The movie follows two distinct stories, and one that is in the background.
The first one is about two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing a bunch of banks in poor Texas towns. Foster and Pine are quite the yin and yang in the relationship. From the very start you can tell that when they’re holding the banks at gun point, Foster’s blood runs hot while Pine’s runs cold. The dynamic relationship they have between each other was the highlight of the whole movie. There differences and their similarities are emphasized throughout the entire film, and the way they always bag on each other was absolutely hilarious. But the brokenness of their lives and bad decisions also play a huge part of their character psyche, and by bad decisions, I’m not necessarily talking about robbing banks (though that is low-quality decision making).
The second relationship is the one between the sheriff (Jeff Bridges) and his partner (Gil Birmingham) tasked with hunting down the two robbers. The two also have a very similar relationship where they’re always bagging on each other, which was also extremely amusing. Bridges continuously makes fun of Birmingham’s ethnicity, and at first I thought his sole purpose for doing so was because he was trying to be funny in an ignorant sort of way. However, as the movie progresses, there are scenes where a lot of his actions and retorts are made because he is terrified of where life is taking him.
Now the background story is the surrounding towns themselves. There are constant scenes cutting back to the financial depravity of everything around these old Texas towns. And in the midst of the broken towns are these banks that are being robbed.
This movie boasts quite the artistic cinematography (which might be why it is getting called Oscar bait). There are multiple long cut scenes as well as shots of the beautiful Texas sky across the desert.
Speaking of Texas, this movie clearly wanted to capture the culture of Texas and how people perceive them and how they perceive themselves. Some of it is complimentary but some of it accusatory. Regardless, this factor assisted in giving the movie a very unique feeling to it. And it needed that unique feeling since cops chasing bank robbers is not a new concept whatsoever.
The soundtrack for the movie is very western-y. This was usually pleasant, but there are a few songs where I wish the singer didn’t have such an unpleasant, near tone deaf sound. Regardless, I feel that all of the music fit with the overall tone of the movie.
If there’s one criticism I have, it’s that some scenes become a little preachy every once in a while. They never really hit you over the head with an agenda, but there are a few split seconds that come close to. Also, the friend that I watched this with told me he thought the movie was too slow at times. I am not a good judge of this as slow scenes do not bother me in film as long as they DO something with the slow scenes. In my opinion, Hell or High Water handles their time exceptionally well, but if you are a person that can’t handle slow pacing, then maybe this movie isn’t for you.
The ending scene was phenomenal. There is so much that is unspoken about what takes place. I’ll touch on it a bit because I REALLY want to. If you’ve seen the movie, feel free to read it. If you haven’t seen the movie, then don’t read it unless you aren’t ever planning on seeing Hell or High Water.
<SPOILER don’t read unless you’ve seen the movie>
So in the end, Chris Pine (Toby) is at his house and is met by Jeff Bridges (Marcus). Toby has accomplished what he has set out to do: rob the banks for just enough to create a trust fund for his kids, pay off the loans on his dead mother’s house, and use her land for oil drilling, thus paving the future for his children. Marcus comes back, despite being retired, because the fact that he hasn’t nailed Toby is killing him, and so is retirement with no friends or family.
This isn’t even to mention that Toby’s brother killed Marcus’s partner. In retaliation, Marcus decides to kill Toby’s brother. So now we have this standoff. Toby’s brother is dead, and so is Marcus’s partner, both at the hands of the opposite party. Toby and Marcus hate each other… and they want to kill each other.
But hidden behind this hatred is the hatred they have for themselves in their own lives. Toby, though he has given his children a future, still cannot live with them because his ex-wife hates his guts. Marcus, though he’s lived a fulfilled life, is alone with his uselessness and he is without friends or family.
Through their thinly veiled threats, what they both truly hope for is that their life comes to end at the hands of the other person. Toby and Marcus, though completely different, are similar in that they have lost their usefulness and now will be forgotten in history.
This ultimately coincides with the theme of the entire movie: that no matter what people do, they are only delaying the inevitability of being forgotten. That no matter what one sets out to accomplish, they are simply waiting for the next generation to replace them. In Toby’s case, he just hopes that he can drive his kids away from the path that he set his own life on.
In many cases, this movie reminded me a bit of No Country for Old Men.
</SPOILER don’t read unless you’ve seen the movie>
Hell or High Water is a fantastic movie. Every character aims to be memorable in one way or another. Every performance is done with finesse, and the movie as a whole leaves you with so much to chew on provided you’re paying attention. Except for Swiss Army Man, and maybe Kubo and the Two Strings, Hell or High Water is my favorite film of 2016. It is funny, it is enthralling, and it is tragic.
9 out of 10