Friday, August 19, 2016

Indie Review: Hell Or High Water (2016)

    Hell Or High Water follows the story of two brothers named Tanner and Toby (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who commit bank robberies in order to save their family farm from foreclosure. However, as they are on the run, they are being pursued by a soon to be retired sheriff named Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).

   I loved the acting by the main cast. Even though the film is about robberies and is a bit of a road movie, it is much more of a slow burn because director David Mackenzie, who gave us the frustratingly underrated prison drama Starred Up, focuses a lot more on the characters and the craftsmanship in the performances. Chris Pine and Ben Foster were aces as two brothers who are the yin to each other's yang. Foster's Tanner is someone who robs because he gets a thrill out of it while Pine's Toby is the more wholesome of the two. Toby takes part in the robberies that take place yet when you look into his eyes, you can tell he isn't in total favor of what he's doing. Chris Pine gives perhaps his best work in quite some time and he continues to prove that he's more than just Captain Kirk.

  Jeff Bridges was also reliably good as the sheriff on the hunt for the two brothers but one actor I would love to acknowledge is Gil Birmingham who plays Marcus' right hand man Alberto. I liked the chemistry he and Bridges have and felt he was the film's true moral center whose profundity translates into comic relief and hidden anguish.

   Even though the film isn't non stop action, there were a handful of scenes that are packed with suspense and adrenaline. For example, in the opening scene where the two brothers start robbing a bank, it immediately seems like it is a normal day for the bank teller heading inside until she is out of the blue held at gunpoint and the once serene feel of the sequence takes an immediate 180. That switch works quite well because as the teller is walking out of her car and heading to the bank, the camera keeps lingering on her. Then, when held at gunpoint and the mood changes, it cuts to the brothers and the teller inside the bank. A lot of the credit goes to the cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and the editing by Jake Roberts.

   While the writer Taylor Sheridan who also did the masterfully written Sicario does a wonderful job with the characterizations in the script, I had some problems with the dialogue. I found the dialogue to be almost minimalist and as a result, I didn't have an immediate idea on what the story is about. But thankfully, the film is more focused on its characters which is the film's greatest strength.

   Overall, Hell Or High Water is a worthy follow-up to director David Mackenzie's Starred Up that is a masterful morality tale which also happens to be a road movie that had me hooked within its first 10 minutes. Even if it isn't very high octane throughout, it makes up for that with its tension filled robbery scenes and the incredible performances from the cast.

Grade: A-