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article imageReview: ‘Hell or High Water’ blends tradition with contemporary drama Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Aug 22, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Hell or High Water’ is an exceptional modern-day Western about two brothers willing to do anything to ensure their family’s future.
No matter what people say, sometimes defining right and wrong is a tricky business. The differences aren’t as clear as black and white nearly as much as people would like. Moreover, the answers can change depending on who you ask and/or on what side of the debate their interests lie. What one person may view as an offense, the other sees as justified retribution. But these gray areas are often the most interesting to explore, particularly in the realm of fiction. In Hell or High Water, the main characters definitely have a difference of opinion when it comes to the legitimacy of their actions.
Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) have been poor all of their lives and Toby’s sons will suffer the same fate — unless they can find a way to pay back the bank the money their mother desperately borrowed against their land before her death by the end of the week. And what money to better pay back the bank with than their own. Therefore, Toby and Tanner strategically plan to rob all the lending bank’s branches until they have the sum required to repay the mortgage. In spite of being weeks from retirement, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) cannot pass up the opportunity to outsmart a criminal; so he and his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), try to stay one step ahead of the brothers as they try to save their family’s legacy.
Although the premise may sound familiar, this is a highly original Western. The Howards are not hardened criminals or career thieves. Tanner has somewhat of a violent past, but the bank robberies are a matter of necessity — his little brother needs his help and he can’t say “no.” Similarly, Toby is the farthest thing from a delinquent. He lives a quiet, unglamorous life on the dilapidated ranch, but desperation can force a man to do things he never dreamed possible. Their personalities couldn’t be more different; however, the brotherly love they share, which has survived years of hardship and separation, is obvious throughout the entire picture. This aspect of the film is unquestionably attributed to the excellent on-screen camaraderie between Foster and Pine.
On the flipside, Marcus and Alberto have a very unconventional partnership, personally and professionally. Although they appear to have a prickly relationship, it’s also apparent they wouldn’t put up with each other’s verbal abuse if they didn’t care for one another. Focusing on Alberto’s Mexican-Native American heritage, Marcus is constantly sending an array of insults in his direction to which the target either responds with silence, a sneer or a snappy comeback. Yet when push comes to shove, they absolutely have each other’s back. And only Bridges could say that many racist things and still seem charming.
The dialogue in this movie is exceptional. It achieves a balance between the picture’s grit and a dark, unexpected humour. In between all the drama, audiences will find themselves smiling and even laughing far more often than the premise suggests. It’s amazing what filmmakers accomplish in a single diner scene with an exchange between the Rangers and a crotchety old waitress — it’s a surprisingly quotable moment in spite of the movie’s not-so-quotable genre. Starred Up director David Mackenzie and Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan have a real knack for male drama, finding the nuances of this story that go beyond the traditional good vs. bad guys. This is not only an excellent, modern-day Western; it’s an excellent movie period.
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges
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