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Movie Monday: Hell or High Water

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie
Genre: Heist, Crime
Running time: 102 minutes
Released: 2016
Produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

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.

Hell or High Water is the best Western film I have seen all year. The film is almost perfectly made. Not overly ambitious, it knows exactly what it should do without overreaching.

Hell or High Water focuses on two brothers, Toby and Tanner, who are introduced as bank robbers. As the film progresses, they continue to make their way around robbing different branches of the Texas Midlands Bank. Toby is attempting to save his family ranch from Texas Midlands Bank before it is seized, so his family can escape poverty and his two sons can live a better life. In the meantime, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his deputy are assigned to catch the pair of bank robbers. The film alternates between the two sides until they inevitably clash.

While Texas is a common setting for Western films, the Texas landscape depicted in Hell or High Water is not generic in any way. The film takes place during the economic downturn; poverty, lost opportunities, cynicism, and desperation are constants throughout the film. There are no heroes. The banks are portrayed as villainous and exploitative. The people refuse to cooperate with Texas Ranger Marcus in his investigation. Even the protagonists are painted as flawed. Tanner is a thrill-seeker, actively seeking to break the law for the adrenaline it gives him. Toby, while his motives for robbing banks may be better, knows he is committing sins through his crimes.

The pacing is brilliant in Hell or High Water. It progresses slowly but surely towards its climax, and background information is slowly given to the viewers organically. The slow pacing is backed by strong acting with the characters as the main highlight of the film. The brothers have a compelling motivation behind their robberies, and the men chasing them are well fleshed out too. While narratively the film brings nothing overly special, Hell or High Water still feels fresh and is extremely well made. I strongly recommend this film to anybody not turned away by its R rating.

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