The ninth film from a director with a checkered filmography (David Mackenzie), Hell or High Water is a pitch-perfect modern spin on revenge Westerns and depression-era crime stories, à la Bonnie and Clyde. Visually and tonally, it draws an astute parallel between the very current circumstances of the protagonists and Dust Bowl-period desperation.
The script, only the second from former Sons of Anarchy actor Taylor Sheridan (he wrote last year’s Sicario), while built on fairly traditional lines, is taut and effective. Tension is skillfully built to a powerful climax, and the setting and characters feel incredibly authentic (it’s entirely unsurprising to learn that Sheridan grew up on a ranch in Texas, where the film is set).
The film is beautifully rendered, with excellent performances by Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges—although for Bridges, at least, this is well-trod territory, as he once again plays a curmudgeonly Southern lawman.
There are clear socio-political tensions informing the backdrop here, but the film does not take a stance on them—or indeed, even explicitly identify them. There is no trite message or lesson to be taken from the film; rather these underpinnings are allowed to enrich the film subtly.
All this being said, there is nothing terribly novel or surprising about this movie. At times I felt it could’ve used something more—some quirkiness or edge, but in the end, it’s a compelling, straightforward take on the Western/heist film.
Verdict: A solidly crafted, if conventional, modern Western that succeeds in its aim to entertain.
Prediction: Other than Best Picture, Hell or High Water is nominated for Original Screeplay and Film Editing. Jeff Bridges also gets a Supporting Role nomination, although the fact that it’s a retread for him makes it more tokenistic than otherwise. The film will not likely to take home any gold, although the Original Screenplay category is still tough to call definitively at this point.