Hell or High Water Review


Characters in Hell or High Water rob banks, but can they rob… your attention? Lee finds out.


The critical fiction, or the story that adapts a popular or somewhat conventional form in order to bring unconventional critiques to as wide a viewerbase as possible, is set with a deliberate challenge through its own nature. If a message in a widely accessible medium is to be digested and not rejected immediately, it can’t be too showy or pushy; it must be subtle, waiting, hinted at to the audience but never forced upon. Manifestos send alarm bells to even dormant thoughts; they must be teased out if they are ever to leave an impression on the hard-to-impress upon masses.

The filmmakers behind Hell or High Water knew this; why else would their slow-draw, jaded, cynical, betrayed version of rural Texas stay so quiet while all that sweet bank robbing action and pretty, pretty Chris Pine keeps happening. Sure, it pervades into the spirit of the characters, particularly Pine’s stoic Toby, but the underlying themes seldom make a reach for the spotlight, preferring to thrive in the investigative segments with Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham’s characters where you don’t really have to listen anyway if you don’t want to.

Lifting the anti-establishment sentimentalities of post-70s Westerns, bank robberies and all, and distilling them into a modern character unthink-piece makes for a beautiful turn here. The characters get just the right amount of dialogue, letting their actions and emotions do much of the heavy lifting. Accountability is the theme of the day, with five characters (really three, with Texas and Big Banks rounding out the cast) questioning how much is too much, how little is too little, and whether towing the line between two extremes really counts for anything. It’s sharp stuff, ambiguous in the best sense and, mercifully, doesn’t distract from the action so much that those who want just a good story can’t still enjoy themselves.

It perhaps gets a little too pointed at times, with the human representation of seedy Big Banks being a snivelling toad-man caricature still trying to nickel and dime the heroes well after their victory. It makes for a fun scene, but it spoils the even-handed view by vilifying, of all people, the fickle accountants who just take their orders as their given.

That, and its representation of women is hilariously unfair, only peppered throughout the screenplay to fuck, bitch, moan, steal or, in at least one better example, feel genuinely bad for. Sure, it’s a Western and, sure, maybe Texas really is this stereotypical; I can’t accept that. This story of brothers could at least have spared itself from a martyr’s reading of Toby, the man’s man who just can’t appease his ding dang bitch ex-wife. Yeesh.

But damn if those bank robberies aren’t great to watch, and as the action spirals further and further out of control, the tension builds to genuine levels of discomfort and dread for the characters and our connection, however tenable, to them. It’s a great watch; one of the best of the year, for sure.



8 thoughts on “Hell or High Water Review

  1. Great write up. Saw this the other day and I found it to be a wonderful film, well paced (not all action but not all dialogue), what dialogue there was I thought was exceedingly well done, the rapport between the brothers and between the Rangers was fantastic and really hit the spot. Performances were also of a high level, Jeff Bridges does bring the sauce to the table, he does grumpy so well!
    I’ve got my eye out now for the duo of Mackenzie and Sheridan to see what they do next as both their previous have been good too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m new to the Mackenzie fold, but will be working my way backwards on the back of this effort, it was sublime 🙂
      Bridges, sweet lord. I thought we were just getting a decent performance for most of the film, but in probably the final big action scene, there’s this moment of understated shock-horror in his performance which was just so perfect, that moment has been playing in my head for days now. There’s so much left unsaid, but everybody of board gets the point across regardless, for what it wants to do it does damn well!


  2. Excellent review, I completely agree. Hell or High Water is an outstanding movie, one of the best I’ve seen this year. Razor sharp dialogue, amazing backdrop and score. There were no easy answers here and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly man, what luck this gem got all its money back easy, sends a good message 🙂 unless they think that message is sequel, in which case once again we have failed hahaha
      Thanks for the lovely comment!


  3. Pingback: ASC Podcast EP#10 – Paul Thomas Anderson Retrospective Pt.1 | Big Picture Reviews

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