Hell or High Water

 

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An admirably judged American tale about two brothers who have a good reason to rob a bank.

 

Hell or High Water

Banking on their future: Ben Foster and Chris Pine

 

Scotland's David Mackenzie is not the most obvious director to helm a tale about bank robbers set in West Texas and Oklahoma but he proves no less adept than the Icelandic filmmaker Balthasar Korm├íkur did when filming 2 Guns in 2013. Bringing a fresh eye to landscapes splendidly shot in 'Scope and colour by Giles Nuttgens, Mackenzie's American sojourn finds him on his best form aided by the editing of Jake Roberts. This is a tale of siblings, the formerly married Toby (Chris Pine) and his criminally inclined older brother Tanner (Ben Foster), although top billing goes to Jeff Bridges who plays Marcus Hamilton, a cop close to retirement  who is determined to identify and catch Toby and Tanner when they start to rob local banks.

 

If 2 Guns was strictly a fun movie, Hell or High Water is something different, although Taylor Sheridan's screenplay has its own humorous character much of it deriving from the Texan tone. In this respect it echoes without equalling the individual voice of Fargo, but it offers good value all the same. In some respects, it is a film of two halves. The first invites us to follow the series of bank robberies being undertaken by the contrasted siblings (Toby although divorced has children to consider, Tanner has been in jail). Subsidiary characters are splendidly idiosyncratic, not least two waitresses - one (Katy Mixon) is engaging as she seeks to hold on to a big tip but she is eclipsed by an older woman whose customers always eat T-bone steak (a lovely cameo by Margaret Bowman).

 

Although the film's soundtrack adds songs to the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, these are not standard pop tunes but are related to the drama which changes tone in the second half as we discover the motive behind the robberies. Toby especially comes to earn our sympathy, while the stubborn persistence of Marcus does not necessarily win our approval as we adjust too to the bond he has with his half Indian, half Mexican partner (Gil Birmingham) so often expressed teasingly through racial references. What is certain is that the role of undoubted villain goes to the banks exploiting their borrowers. At the close, there is a deliberate ambiguity over where our sympathies should lie. This element is effective without reaching the depths of A War (2015). But, when all is said and done, this well-acted, well made film is essentially there to provide a good night out.  

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland, Katy Mixon, Dale Dickey, Kevin Rankin, William Sterchi, Margaret Bowman.


Dir David Mackenzie, Pro Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Sidney Kimmel and Julie Yorn, Screenplay Taylor Sheridan, Ph Giles Nuttgens, Pro Des Tom Duffield, Ed Jake Roberts, Music Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Costumes Malgosia Turzanska.


Film 44/LBI Entertainment/CBS Films/OddLot Entertainment/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment-StudioCanal.
102 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 9 September 2016. Cert. 15
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