****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****
Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 14 Seconds
My rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre!! Go See it Now!!
"THE DAYS WHEN YOU COULD ROB BANKS AND LIVE OFF THE MONEY ARE LONG GONE"
Hell or High Water, written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by David MacKenzie, is the story of Toby and Tanner Howard, two native sons of Texas who go on a bank robbing spree. The film stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the Tanner brothers and Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges as the Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton who is hot on their trail.
The acting, the writing and the directing in Hell or High Water is impeccable. Taylor Sheridan who wrote the script, also wrote last years Sicario, and is quickly becoming a master screenwriter. His dialogue is crisp and his action and storytelling vibrant and vivid. The very basic story of Hell or High Water is that of bank robbers, but Sheridan puts an original and unique twist onto that narrative and uses it to tell an intriguing story with deeper truths sprinkled throughout his multilayered script.
Director Mackenzie uses a deft touch to allow the film and his actors room to breath, and he uses the vast Texas landscape to enhance his visual storytelling. Mackenzie's pacing and fluid camera work add an extra dimension to the story that help it blossom. Mackenzie's other great achievement is his obvious insightful work with his actors. While Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are accomplished actors who may not need all that much direction, Mackenzie's work with the supporting and smaller roles is evident and excellent. There are local hires in this film, I am thinking of an older man in a diner, and an old waitress in another diner, who are so great in their scenes it filled me with a beaming joy. After having suffered through the atrocity of acting in Sully, seeing the exquisite work of the actors in smaller roles in Hell or High Water gave me faith once again in the craft and skill of not only acting but of directing. I thank Mr. Mackenzie for that and for his dedication to his job and the specificity of his work.
As for the main characters, all three actors are outstanding. Ben Foster is an often over looked actor, but he is among the best we have working today. Foster's Tanner vibrates with a palpable chaotic energy and unpredictability that is mesmerizing. Chris Pine's Toby is more subdued than his brother, but carries a cross of melancholy throughout life that permeates his every move. In my eyes, Pine was little more than a pretty boy movie star before this, but after seeing his work in Hell or High Water, I am excited to see where his career can go from here. And finally Jeff Bridges, who is one of the great actors of our time, turns in another stellar performance. Bridges' Texas Ranger is funny, bordering on cruel, a man desperate to connect and feel again but who is completely ill-equipped to do so. But when we see rare glimpses of Ranger Hamilton's true self and heart, they are utterly captivating. There is one heart breaking sequence where Bridges goes from a subdued guttural cry to a ferocious and fierce determination that could melt steel. Bridges is a joy to behold on screen, and his work in Hell or High Water is more proof of his professional and artistic mastery.
Finally, a special mention for Gil Birmingham who plays Bridges' Texas Ranger partner Alberto Parker. Birmingham takes a role that in the hands of a lesser actor could have been just a caricature, and creates a truly magnificent character of depth, life and feeling. Birmingham's Parker takes much abuse from his partner Hamilton, and while he wishes that abuse would roll off his back in all good fun, it doesn't. Birmingham creates a wall which Parker hides behind in order to function in the world of the Texas Rangers, and is smart enough to let the audience get glimpses of who Parker really is behind that wall which makes him a distinct and genuine character that lights up the screen.
"I'VE BEEN SITTING HERE LONG ENOUGH TO WATCH THAT BANK BEEN ROBBING ME FOR THIRTY YEARS GET ROBBED" - OLD MAN IN DINER
I had not heard much about Hell or High Water before seeing it. It is one of those films that sort of flies under the radar in our very cluttered popular culture. I went to see it because a friend of mine, Mr. Ben AKA The Oklahoma Kid, had recommended it to me. He is usually spot on when it comes to film, so on his advice I made the trek to the theatre to check it out. And boy, am I ever glad I did. Hell or High Water is a truly magnificent film, one of the best of the year. After seeing it I tried to describe my feelings for the film to a friend of mine, I told her that Hell or High Water is the type of film for which cinema was invented. The film tells its story on multiple, complex levels, and most importantly it also tells the truth. There is no Sully-esque fairy tale or wish fulfillment here. The lesson of Hell or High Water is that the American Dream is a lie. On top of that it makes the subtle yet effective argument that America itself was founded upon a lie and built upon the slaughter of native people and the theft of their land, and the karma of that theft reverberates to this day. Hell or High Water shows us that the exploitation that built this country has moved from the native population to the nativist population. Hell or High Water is damning evidence that American capitalism has now become a cancer that is devouring its host, and will continue to do so until its death.
The Howard brothers learn quickly that the only way to succeed in the rigged game of American capitalism is to cheat. And if you have to hold a gun to somebody's head just to get a place at the table, then you do it….that is the true American way. The Howard brothers are like millions of Americans who have been sold a bill of goods and were and will be again, left holding the bag when the house of cards tumbles. The Howard brothers are the type of men who fight our wars overseas only to come back home to be "thanked for their service" by self-satisfying American sycophants but ignored for their true sacrifice and their desperate needs. The Howard's, like most Americans, live in a country where opportunity is for the few and despair for the many. The Howard's, unlike most Americans, are smart enough to realize that the real enemy is not outside our borders in Iraq, or Syria or Russia, but right here at home on Wall Street and in Washington.
"BOY, YOU'D THINK THERE WERE TEN OF ME" - TANNER HOWARD
The Howard's are also throwbacks to a time when real men existed in this country, not the faux men who roam our land now, with their big pick up trucks, belt buckles and cowboy hats, the Chris Kyle worshipers who carry weapons but lack the courage and wisdom to know against whom to use them. These faux men are good government bullshitters who wave their flag and pledge their allegiance to the lie that is killing them. And when Tanner Howard walks down the middle of the street with guns a-blazin, these "real" men, who greatly outnumber him and out gun him, turn tail and run, because they know that in the face of a real man, of true masculinity, the American male of today stands no chance.
Hell or High Water is about the loss of that true American masculinity. The Howard brothers are the last of the dinosaurs roaming the Texas plains. The outlaw, the true individualist, who would stand up to power, not be its slave, are long gone. America has become a nation of cowards because all the real men have been neutered…by government, by culture, by greed, by fear, by generational incompetence. The younger generations have grown up not knowing what a real man is, so they drive their lime green muscle cars and play their hip-hop and wave their pistols in an attempt to emulate what they think a real man is, all the while the real man rides his white stallion in the background without a sound and barely a notice, and uses his fists to beat the shit out of those posing at being real men.
"THESE BOYS IS ON THEIR OWN" - TEXAS RANGER MARCUS HAMILTON
There is a scene in Hell or High Water where a bunch of ranchers drive their cattle across the road to escape a brush fire. From atop his horse the rancher says to Bridges' Ranger, "My kids won't do this job!". As Bridges drives away he says to his partner, "These boys is on their own." They are on their own, for they are the last of their kind, driven to extinction by events beyond their control. The real men, like the Howards or that cattle driving cowboy, know that America's true enemy is from within, it is the banks that started that brushfire that will drive us off our lands, just like we drove the Comanche off of this same land a hundred and fifty years before. The flag waving dipshits, the Chris Kyles, the good government bullshitters, they are already dead and they are too stupid to even know it yet. These faux men, these impotent American males worship an idol, America, that cares not for them except to feed upon their naiveté and idiocy. That brushfire sweeping the Texas plain already destroyed the uber-masculine culture of the Comanche, and now it will grow and spread and leave behind it a scorched earth of American masculinity that will never grow back.
That's the real problem with guns in this country, not that guns are dangerous in and of themselves, but that there are no real men left to carry them. The men of this nation are simply children grown large who have had no true men to raise and guide them, and that is why there is so much gun violence today. The people with guns aren't man enough to know when, how and on whom to use them. That goes for the gang banger, the cowboy, the soldier and the cop alike, none of which are real men, that is why they shoot unarmed men and deer…because unarmed men and deer don't shoot back. That is why we fight wars against countries that can't fight back, and still can't win them. When Tanner Howard brazenly walks down the street and shoots back at the pick-up truck contingent, those cowards tuck tail and head for the hills as fast as they can, because Tanner is worth ten of those neutered half-men.
I have a theory of masculinity that most film lovers will understand. It goes like this…most men of today think of themselves as one of the Corleone family from The Godfather. Of the Corleone brothers, Sonny, Fredo, Michael and Tom Hagan, most men think they are either Sonny or Michael. Sonny, the hot tempered tough guy and ladies man, or Michael, the cool, calm, unflappable leader. In Hell or High Water, Tanner is Sonny and Toby is Michael. In reality most men of today are delusional and are neither Sonny nor Michael. The one's who think they are Sonny are really Fredo, and the ones who think they are Michael are really Tom Hagan. And this is where we find ourselves at this time in the history of the American male…we are a nation of Fredo's, incompetent cowards who are afraid of our own shadow…psychologically speaking I absolutely mean that literally. Occasionally we run into a Tom Hagan and confuse him as being a Michael because we haven't seen a real Michael in many decades. The man we think is a Michael isn't a Michael, he is a Tom, more an errand boy for those in power than real a man who should wield power. The days of the American male as Sonny and Michael are long gone, for now we live in the age of Fredo. What proof do I have of this? Look at our two Presidential nominees…who are you voting for? Fredo or Tom? You get what you pay for…and our bill has come due.
"ONLY ASSHOLES DRINK MR. PIBB" - TANNER HOWARD
Hell or High Water is the epitaph of the real American man. Go see it as it is a fantastic film. It is well worth your hard earned dollars and your sparse free time. Go see it and see the last of a dying breed, the Real American Man, because soon enough the only place you will be able to see one is on a movie screen.