The recurring theme in two of the previous four movie reviews I’ve reviewed here is that, yes, summer movies have been a major letdown on all fronts. Superhero movies? Duds. Animated movies? Cash-grabs. Mega-budget sci-fi sequels? Repugnant. Comedies? Crickets. It’s worth mentioning summer for a third time because audiences have not been given that ONE movie that stays with them beyond the weekend they see it in theaters. Luckily, that changes this weekend. Hell or High Water is a near-perfect modern Western, filled with excellent performances and cheeky dialogue that personify the embodiment of the withering away of the genuine American Dream.
Toby is a divorced father who’s trying to make a better life for his son. His brother Tanner is an ex-convict with a short temper and a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that’s about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Marcus, a Texas Ranger who’s only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with a crafty lawman who’s not ready to ride off into the sunset.
Desolate lands foreclosed on by the bank, businesses with little or no business, and employees of these businesses struggling from paycheck to paycheck. This isn’t just Hollywood playing out on the big screen; it happens in small towns across the United States every day. Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) takes us on a brisk, yet subtly-paced journey about two polar-opposite brothers living in a pragmatic reality that shows how far they’ll go to make ends meet. While they may not be on the same page morally, their brotherly bond motivates them to do what is necessary. And on the flip side, two Texas Rangers are looking to infuse some excitement into their pursuit of justice by going after criminals the FBI is not interested in. Luckily, blue-chip performances help us on see things through the eyes of the two maladjusted brothers and the rangers who pursue them across the barren landscape of Texas.
Knowing that he’ll never be completely redeemed for whatever the deeds of his past, Chris Pine’s (Star Trek Beyond) character tries to salvage himself as a father. Pine gives a career-best performance here, showing us that he’s ready to move on to the dramatic genre once he’s done exploring the final frontier. Ben Foster’s (Lone Survivor) portrayal of the trigger-happy older brother is reminiscent of his character from the 3:10 to Yuma remake. He serves as a weighted balance to help push things along and make us question where we should draw the line. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Love) gives the kind of fine performance we’ve come to expect from him as a Texas Ranger in pursuit of the bank-robbing brothers. Giving off a Rooster Cogburn vibe from his Oscar- nominated performance in True Grit, Bridge’s conversations with his partner (played by the excellent Gil Birmingham) might seem insecure, but they are meant to be sincere. Like anyone on the verge of retirement, Bridge’s character is just trying to make that final journey before riding off into the sunset.
The dialogue comes across like something from a Coen Brothers movie (No Country for Old Men, in particular, comes to mind), which is unexpected, yet sharp. While these small Texas towns we visit may seem bleak, the characters who live in them make them vibrant, which brings out most of the movie’s laughs. One scene in particular at a café involving Bridges and Birmingham in which the Rangers’ interact with a local waitress is among the best scenes in a movie released so far this year. The movie also has some great cinematography and music to go along with the noteworthy dialogue. A modern Western score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis sets the tone throughout the movie, while the camera gives us an overview of the land outside these small towns. It’s an effective combination that constantly reminds us that, no matter which direction our characters turn, hope is nowhere in sight.
Hell or High Water moves seamlessly from laugh-out-loud moments to dramatic events that give us pause. And as unwavering actions unfolded on screen, I felt fully invested in every character that director Mackenzie introduces to us while painting an unpleasant picture of a reality that millions of Americans experience every day. Not only is Hell or High Water the best movie I’ve seen this summer, but I feel it also will having the staying power to stand up as one of the year’s best when it’s all said and done.