Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hell or High Water

**** out of ****

Hell or High Water is the kind of movie that regains special qualities that the crime genre has lost. I wonder if writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) had this in mind when they conceived the project.

Crime films tend to glorify the violent actions of its criminal characters with an intentional or unintentional thirst for sadistic sensationalism. This story has its violence, but its characters become such a point of the story’s investment that we don’t desire their endeavors to lead anyone to harm, even though we know they will.

With similarities to the literary works of Cormac McCarthy or Arthur Penn’s film, Bonnie and Clyde, Hell or High Water is a present-day western, which captures two lawless characters with empathy. Chris Pine plays the poor heir to a dilapidated ranch in West Texas, who enlists the help of his ex-con brother, played by Ben Foster to rob different branches of the same bank in destitute towns. The plan isn’t exactly one of revenge for the hardships modern finance has caused families like their own, but more of a strategy to establish heritage.

Meanwhile, an aging Texas Ranger, played by Jeff Bridges, who is concerned for the safety of the small communities, follows the trail of the unidentified robbers with the assistance of his longtime partner, played by Gil Birmingham, whom he regularly taunts with hidden admiration.

The movie’s bold statement about Texas’ violent history of land acquisition slowly surfaces from the film’s visual subtext to some gracefully delivered dialogue. This is yet another movie about America from the fresh eyes of a foreign director interpreting some insightful writing from a man who knows the uncomfortable aspects our country’s problems better than most.

Pine delivers a calculated and calm persona as the film’s unlikely criminal mastermind; Foster plays an unhinged violent character who seems more like an untamed animal than an evil person; and Bridges continues to shine, even when playing a character who is the antithesis of “The Dude.”

Hell or High Water is among the best movies I’ve seen in 2016.

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