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Hell or High Water: Two Riders Were Approaching
By Alex Carrigan
Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
How fascinating. Yesterday, I mentioned that La La Land was an escapist film to cope with the times. Hell or High Water feels like way more of an escapist film for the 2016/7 crowd. And for that, I found that I really enjoyed this movie. A lot more than I expected for a film I knew almost nothing about going into it. But man, was this quite an appropriate film to watch second in the series.
The film follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who are on a bank robbing spree throughout Texas. After the death of their mother, the brothers are at risk of losing their ranch to the bank. Their plan is simple: rob a few of the banks within their bank’s chain, convert the money into gambling winnings out-of-state, then put it in the bank in order to pay off the debts and get their ranch. In pursuit are two Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) tracing the trail of robberies and hoping to catch them off.
As you can see, this is a perfect film for 2016. The brothers are being ripped off by bank loans and looking to lose everything because of the horrible banking system in the country. They’re already poor, but they’re looking to lose even more because of it. Their plan is not only to clear their debts but to also get back at the banking system. Their plan is one that will also ensure the bank won’t care once the plan gets completed, so they’re also taking advantage of the greed of the bank managers.
Of course, the film doesn’t deny that this plot is still illegal. The brothers even know they’re likely to go to jail or die trying this plot. But to them, this is all they can do. They know it’s a weak justification to save their home and provide a future for Pine’s children, but as they see it, they have no choice.
However, Bridges and the other officers after them are only slightly better. They are unquestionably on the side of the law, but they do serve as a harsh reminder of the setting. Yes, they are Texas Rangers and are pursuing bank robbers, but Bridges also continually makes jokes about his partner’s race. This ties in with the rural Texas setting, where we see a lot of poverty and decay all around, and the general mood of all the characters is one of dissatisfaction and desperation to find anything better.
This is especially aided by the cinematography and music. The film is very Coen-esque in its direction and that starkness fits in with the world. It’s a gorgeous look at rural Texas, but it’s also unflinching in how drab and broken the area is. It’s not a pleasant place to live, and the film isn’t shy at showing that in its poverty, racism, and open-carry policy.
Overall, I loved this movie. It’s a slow-burn movie, which may or may not work for everyone. However, it uses its time well to establish the characters and the setting, so that when the plot really kicks into gear after the 1 hour mark, it’s quite a blast. I didn’t know what to expect going into this movie, and I was really surprised by what happened.
Hell or High Water is a long shot to win…anything. It’s a good movie, and definitely one that will probably be looked at a lot more fondly in years to come. I just think it’s unlikely to win much. It could pull an upset win for Best Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges, but I’m not sure. Either way, Hell or High Water is a movie that defied my (limited) expectations and made me excited for where Western cinema can go.
Tomorrow: I take a ride on the train with Lion and see where it takes me.