Tuesday, August 23, 2016

[Review] Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster star in this modern western crime drama that sneaks up on you and lights your expectations on fire.

Hell or High Water opens with an exhilarating, rubber-burning sequence that involves a rugged duo of mustached brothers going on a bank-robbing spree in West Texas. Chris Pine plays the in-debt Toby, and Ben Foster is the ex-con Tanner. Meanwhile, an aging Ranger on the verge of retirement (Jeff Bridges) and his partner (Gil Birmingham) are deliberately on their trail.

The midsection sees a lull in the action, but it isn't a bad break. It's more of a calm before the showdown. A waiting game of sorts. We also get to witness some mighty fine acting along the way (and Chris Pine smashing a dude's head into the door of a brand new Mustang). Ben Foster is an absolute goon in this, perfectly playing the scuzzy hothead brother whose life is fueled by trouble. Chris Pine is solid, as his character is a little less rambunctious and more conflicted about the crimes he's committing. At one point, after Tanner causes a scene in a casino, Toby asks "How have you managed to stay out of prison for over a year?" And Tanner responds, "It's been difficult."

It's no surprise that Jeff Bridges is superb here in a notable later-career role that at least deserves to be mentioned alongside Crazy Heart and True Grit. And even though the film carries a fairly serious tone, he's down to shoot some of his scruffy humor into the mix. But on a more somber note, there's a particularly memorable conversation where his weary yet dedicated character ponders when his own time will be up. In a movie with wild chases and ammo exchanges, one of the most striking scenes is a quiet heart-to-heart talk in a motel room. That said, the climax does bring the heat, erupting with a sweaty intensity and a standoff sequence that reminded me of the 1941's Humphrey Bogart vehicle High Sierra, but with a couple of tweaks and Ben Foster shifting into an unhinged gear.

Directed by David Mackenzie (Starred Up) and written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), Hell or High Water isn't a film where all the ends are neatly tied up. And given the bullet-holes-in-the-windshield nature of the story, it's all the better for it.

* 8.5/10 *

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