The older, I’ve gotten, the more I have grown to appreciate a good ol’ western. For a long time, westerns had gone by the waist side faster than Clint Eastwood’s pistol in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Maybe it’s because that movie, along with other westerns made in the 1960s and 70s, were so great that people have been afraid to challenge them. Maybe it’s simply because they weren’t in as much high demand anymore. Let’s be honest, these days it’s hard to sell something to this current generation if it doesn’t have emojis or 3D or some sort of app associated with it. Thankfully, both of those western theories now seem to have been squashed. In fact, our generation now has a band of our own “millennial westerns” (I may copyright that…has a nice ring to it).
The Coen Brothers made No Country for Old Men. Quentin Tarantino gave us one of my all-time favorites, Django Unchained. In fact, the movie turned out so great that it even made a believer out of Tarantino, who later said he wanted to make more westerns within the next few years. He did just that when he released The Hateful Eight, a couple years later. All of the movies mentioned above have become classics and rightfully received several Oscar nominations. There have been others mixed in between these new-age greats, but the one I am going to write about today belongs in the conversation as one of the best of this era. It has earned a seat at the “big boy” table in the saloon. It…is Hell or High Water.
Last year, I thought the most underrated movie of the year was Ex Machina. Not only did it remind me of a futuristic Shakespearean story, but it also freaked the hell out of me(I guess much like original Shakespearean plays too, actually) due to its realness/timeliness combined with our worlds obsession with obtaining and expanding on artificial intelligence. I could go on and on but my point is, this year, that distinction for me goes to Hell or High Water.
The movie stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the two Howard brothers from Texas who come up with a scheme brilliant to them – getting money to save their family’s ranch by robbing banks. Oh if only it were that easy, right? Well, as you know, it’s not. It wasn’t for them, either as you find out in the film. I gotta admit, though, that their strategy makes you say “hmm.” They definitely were smarter than they looked. But with every great plan is one caveat. There is always someone or something that screws it up. So for anyone out there thinking it’s smart to rob small branches of large banks and to not take any $100 bills because that’s what the government tracks, you’re late to the party and save yourself the time and trouble.
The role of the “big, bad sheriff” is played masterfully by Jeff Bridges. Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (played by Gil Birmingham, aka Jacob’s father in Twilight. Yeah I saw it, so what?) are the policemen who have the tough task of running down and catching the Howard brothers throughout Texas. Marcus gives Alberto a tough time throughout the movie by “breaking his balls” endearingly about being half-Mexican. I say endearingly because I believe he really, truly cares about him and appreciates him.
However, Bridges does an excellent job at portraying such a character that, in reality, everyone knows. Everyone knows the guy who says racist, inappropriate jokes but in your heart you know they really don’t mean them. Is it ideal behavior? No. Does it happen? Everyday. Even Alberto himself playfully gets upset, and even dishes some right back to him. Their chase and interactions while on the chase are interesting and, at times, even provide comic relief.
On the other side of the chase, Pine and Foster also have intriguing exchanges. Taylor Sheridan wrote a simple, yet deep screenplay that allows us to see the true character depth and development of all the main characters in the film. Just like Marcus and Alberto’s relationship, Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) have a common, relatable one as well. Tanner, the reckless, bad-ass brother who has no future, influences Toby, the brains of the duo who knowingly could be doing something better with his life but loves the excitement and sense of clear purpose his brother gives him. Through all that, they both need each other. They both bring out the opposite, probably even coveted, side of each other. In the movie, you will see how strong their brotherly love truly is by the outcome.
I think Hell of High Water is a dark horse during this awards season. It came out during the summer, which normally doesn’t bode well for getting any nominations (unless you’re Gladiator). I think it is definitely worthy of a Best Picture nod, though I’m not fully endorsing it just yet to officially get one until I see some of the other heavyweight movies that are about to hit the theaters (there are a LOT of them this year). I think Jeff Bridges is worthy of getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and I think director David Mackenzie and screenplay writer Taylor Sheridan should get strong consideration as well.
What I am ready to endorse, though, is the cinematography and the music. Giles Nuttgens is the credited cinematographer, and he created a colorful, scenic film that painted the exact picture of a gritty and hot West Texas that went along perfect for this film. I always say every great movie has a great score and this one does not disappoint. Nick Cave (who I have been a fan of ever since I first heard him on the Batman Forever soundtrack -one of the best soundtracks of all-time) and Warren Ellis created the perfect soundtrack for this film. I would even go as far as to the say the movie isn’t the same without this score behind it.
If you like westerns…if you like cops and robbers…if you like the 2nd Amendment…hell, if you just like Chris Pine…then come Hell or High Water, you should see this movie.
MATTER RATING: 8/10
OSCAR SCALE: 7/10
BY: CHRIS GUEST