Indie Film Review “Hell Or High Water”

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First, the Recap:

Brotherhood. Kinship. Family. Bonds can run deep and sometimes, nothing counts so much as blood. Even in the most desperate of circumstances, brothers might come together to make every effort to maintain the legacy of pedigree and lineage. In the dusty landscapes of West Texas, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his recently released ex-con sibling Tanner (Ben Foster) are making strides to save their own heritage and birthright represented by the beleaguered ranch left to them by their parents. With Toby divorced and Tanner a less than well-mannered kind, the two hatch a scheme to raise enough funds to keep their beloved home–robbing regional banks. With one looking to hurt no one while the other carries a chip on his shoulder, the two make their mark while on the lam.

Ultimately gaining the unwanted attention of aging Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), Toby and Tanner soon find themselves on the run from more than their own inner demons and tumultuous pasts. Yet, the more they steal and launder through local casinos, the more they realize their goal to not allow the family’s ranch to fall into banker’s hands has possibly become larger and more dangerous than ever before.  Pushing the limits, despite Toby’s growing concern and hesitations, the goal seems within reach. But, as the brothers begin to face off against each other via dissimilar endgames each has in mind, it’s only a matter of time before Hamilton catches up and the inevitable showdown looms large.

Next, my Mind:

Director David Mackenzie’s hard-edged, gritty, character-driven drama truly makes the viewer stand up and take notice, not just with its blunt dialogue and criminals-on-the-run premise, but also in moments of reflection and emotional connection portrayed by the two lead characters as they navigate individual and conflicting agendas while still showcasing the love of brothers for one another. It’s a study in ideologies beyond the criminality of their actions, and this polarity is so effectively enacted that it draws you in fully, becoming invested with the pair, and even possibly “choosing a side” as it were, which this reviewer did over the course of the film. The stark landscapes of West Texas very much suit the narrative, and could even become a somewhat metaphorical image of the brother’s minds and souls as they try to attain their goal while one actually longs for peace, quiet, and stability while the other reaps chaos, even as the law closes in.

Pine and Foster, while individually are fantastic here, honestly need to be lauded together for the roles they play as the Howard brothers. I say this because it is the exceptionally tight, well-acted presence they bring when on screen together that gives the film so much of its punch. For Pine’s Toby, being the level-headed, more intelligent side of the equation, his overall goal as a part of the felonious acts being committed is driven by a morally viable, deep desire to ensure his children never become him, to ensure their future and his ex-wife’s provision. Meanwhile, for Foster’s Tanner, it’s all about living life on the edge as much as possible, not really worrying about who might get hurt along the way, and just being wild and angry, despite this entire attitude having landed him in prison once before. Watching these two actors emote and dig into these completely contradictory life views is a treasure to take in and they flat out nail it to a “T”.

Add in Bridges, whose old-school, borderline washed out and needs to retire Ranger Hamilton is equally affecting with the still present toughness and dogged determination to capture the two cons while fighting his own weakening condition and drive to stay in his career. The character’s racially-charged joking with partner Alberto is actually quite hilarious, even as the words rub Alberto the wrong way every time. Overall, with its moody, edgy tone and an appropriately decisive, yet open-ended finale, “Hell Or High Water” is an excellent piece of independent filmmaking that certainly deserves a look.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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