Hell or High Water is a film that could have been made at virtually any time since the dawn of cinema. The story is simple and only a handful of characters and locations are required. But whilst we could have been looking at a simple re-run of a bank robbing story, thanks to a sharp script, some strong acting and engaging direction we are instead treated to a compelling and up-to-date film whose two hours more or less fly by.
Welcome to West Texas. You’ll recognise the landscape. It may not be the exact geographical spot but in years gone by Smokey and the Bandit raced across this kind of world. But now the fun has gone and all the signs ask about how much debt you’re in. The brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively) have picked up the family debt and are about to lose their ranch. They have a plan. Rob some of the sleepier branches of the Texas Midlands bank and pay off the debt in the nick of time. On their tale are two Texas rangers of advancing years (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) who exchange racist banter and T-bone steaks whilst trying to track the brothers down.
This is a very male world, deliberately so as, so what the film is keen to show are the fag days of an era. Nobody robs banks like this any more. When we come across a traditional cattle drive the lead rancher complains about the work and says his son will get a better job. The towns built on earlier prosperity are now reduced to run down restaurants and, in the words of a ranger, hardware stores that cost twice as much as Home Depot.
There is a lot of warmth and humour in the script in amongst the barbs and bitterness. The direction reveals the grandeur and beauty of Texas whilst leaving us in no doubt of the toughness of the life there. The human interaction and actual bursts of action are very well handled. Bridges, looking every day and then some of his nearly seventy years, takes the plaudits as Marcus, the near-retirement ranger, but the main quartet all deserve note for their portrayals.
Hell or High Water is a smart and enjoyable film. Definitely one to catch.