Hell or High Water review

If there’s one thing people of different ethnicities and beliefs seem to be able to bond over, it’s a mutual hatred for the anonymous banker. While some of us still squabble over land like prehistoric bottom-feeders, most of us acknowledge that the real thieves are those money people who wank onto office golf mats while foreclosing on someone’s mortgage. That’s pretty much what’s going on in Hell or High Water, hence the need for Chris Pine and Ben Foster to go around teaching banks a Texan lesson in buggery.

Pine plays Toby, a divorced father who wants a better life for his two sons. And after the recent discovery that their family ranch is richer in oil than a chip-shop worker’s hairnet, money should no longer be an issue. But due to an unpaid mortgage, the bank is preparing to take the property from them. (See? That opening paragraph wasn’t just an excuse to use the words "wank" and "buggery".) Anyway, to pay off the debts, he plans a series of bank heists across Texas with his ex-convict brother, Tanner (Foster). Together, they drive around restoring morality by holding numerous people at gunpoint and bashing them in the face.

On their tails are two Texas Rangers who, for the sake of some light relief, happen to be a cowboy and an Indian. Marcus (Jeff Bridges) makes casually racist jokes about Alberto’s (Gil Birmingham) ancestry in a manner so endearing that we can all pretend we’re laughing ironically. Their amusing back-and-forth is actually rather absorbing, which makes it all the more effective when their conversations turn serious. It’s the sharp writing of Taylor Sheridan (not much of a surprise from the man who penned Sicario) that allows the cast to click together like pieces of a puzzle that don’t need ramming into place. Bridges is at the top of his game, while Pine and Foster give the best performances of their careers.

I suppose I should also give some credit to director David Mackenzie, who balances the drama and comedy so efficiently you can never really tell who’s going to prevail. It’s quite a feat for dusty Westerns such as this, which usually have obvious protagonists and antagonists, to keep you guessing right until the end. Part of me wanted to see Bridges shoot out the brothers’ teeth like a fairground game, but the other part remembered I’m meant to have an unconditional hatred of bankers. As a result, I’m left enjoying each character’s screen-time equally and feeling even more nauseous from this continuous praise.

Hell or High Water is a relevant, contemporary story that just happens to be set where people still chew tobacco and insulate their homes with dust. It’s the best modern Western since No Country for Old Men. And if you didn’t like that, you should probably go and stare at a moth light or something while everyone with a longer attention span watches this contender for film of the year.

• Chris Edwards is the editor of CineWipe. He tweets @CineWipe

EXTRAS: The featurette Damaged Heroes (12:23); the featurette Enermies Forever (13:35); the featurette Visualising the Heart of America (9:27); an Interview With David MacKenzie (6:26); footage from the Hello Or High Water Premiere in Austin, Texas (1:54); and a Filmmaker Q&A (29:51) filmed in Los Angeles, California.

Chris Edwards

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