Movie Review: Hell or High Water

A Beautiful, Articulate Snapshot of Americana

Dominic Savana, Cactus Editor

Extra large popcorn. Check. Large Coke. Check. Roll film.

Since the first reel, American film culture was plastered with Westerns, and recently, the genre has shifted from the classic Western to the modern Western. Films like the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men ensured the viability of the genre for this decade in the box office. The modern western has proven to be a critical force, as well.

In Hell or High Water, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) asks his older brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to help him rob banks around mid-Texas in an effort to save their family ranch. Hot on their tails are a couple of aged Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Parker, played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, respectively. The moral line is so hazy in this film, an incredible feat to achieve in any movie, let alone a movie with clear archetypes. The Howard brothers are so pure in their intentions that it’s hard to disagree with their motives or means, even when their actions are explicitly wrong. The aging officers interact in a way that feels completely authentic of a generation that is slowly fading away. At the heart of an action packed robbery story rests the soul of an old America transitioning into modern society, desperately trying to hold on to some culture.

Perhaps the true antagonist in Hell or High Water is modernity? All of the characters see their ways of life disappearing in a controlled bureaucracy. Banks are in business to make money even if it means ruining lives. Law and order needs to be maintained in civilization, but the criminal justice system is outmatched in rural America.

Pine and Foster deliver compelling performances. Their characters have a troubled relationship, but it is because of this mistrust that scenes when the two are close are even more impactful. The cost is high for Toby, and Tanner helps his Toby for no other reason than Toby is his brother. The brothers’ story is fraught with emotion, and you will beg to have them on screen every minute of the film.

Bridges and Birmingham have a weird, semi-racist relationship that totally works because Bridges’ affection for his partner is never held in question. This dynamic keeps the viewer engaged despite their interactions taking place in the lower action sequences. The weight of the film comes to a head when the dual protagonist groups cross paths. At the focus, Hell or High Water speaks to the indissoluble power of fraternity and the sacrifices we are willing to make for the people we love most. You will want to watch this film again and again. Each year a movie which should be in Oscar season gets pumped into the summer, delighting all who yearn for a thought provoking experience. Hell or High Water is one of those rare gems.