By Linc Leifeste | August 26, 2016
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Dale Dickey
A West Texas tale of two brothers who go on a bank robbing spree to get the money required to pay back the greedy bankers who usurious loaned their sickly mother money, knowing that they’d be able to take her land when she failed to pay back the loan, Hell or High Water would seem to be an instant candidate for 2016’s film of the year for me. Between the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis and the soundtrack that features Texas music legends such as Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings and Jeff Bridges’ memorable turn as a crusty Texas Ranger in the story of two working class Texas brothers turning to a life of crime to beat a corrupt financial system, this film should be can’t miss for my tastes. And it doesn’t miss but it also repeatedly misfires as Taylor Sheridan’s too often heavy handed script alternates between painfully cheesy dialogue and brilliant quips and in the end can’t be completely redeemed by the brilliant performances of Ben Foster and Bridges or the camera work of cinematographer Giles Nuttgens.
Straight living older brother Toby Howard (Chris Pine) ropes wilder young brother Tanner (Ben Foster), who has a criminal history, into helping him rob a series of banks to get the money to pay off their mother’s loan, therefore saving the family land (on which oil has just been discovered) to pass on to Toby’s children. Tanner is more than willing and is the meaner and more menacing of the two if not the brains of the outfit and things go along smoothly enough until they decide to hit a slightly bigger bank. The bank is slightly bigger but it’s still in a rural West Texas town, where everyone is armed, and soon enough bullets are flying and people are dying and Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are hot on the trail.
Part Western, part 70’s crime thriller (the Howard brothers fleeing a robbery by taking alleys in their muscle car had me thinking of films such as Bullitt), part 90’s made-for-TV-movie (I found the dialogue to be that painful at times), it’s worth a watch for Foster’s exuberant performance alone but it’s frustrating to think just how good it could have been (I’m thinking No Country For Old Men-good) with just a re-write. Sheridan, who also wrote the slightly better Sicario, shows again that he’s capable of telling a good story and crafting some solid dialogue but is also prone to making too many easy and simplistic choices. The message of the film is as heavy handed as the brilliant Killing Them Softly but without the deft directorial hand of an Andrew Dominik, it feels more uneven and unsatisfactory.