Hell or High Water

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As someone who used to work in a bank, my worst fear was that one of my wealthier customers would come in and drone on about their recent holiday in The Maldives and then tell me, “You can visit one day, too, if you put your mind to it!”

My second worst fear was being robbed. I worked in an affluent neighborhood, so in the early morning hours I mostly ran into rich people who had nothing better to do than be awake, drinking coffee and walking their cobblestone streets.

Hell or High Water starts with a bang when brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) nab bank teller Elsie (Dale Dickey) as she’s slipping the key into the lock. Forcing her inside the bank, she gives them lip service that I certainly wouldn’t be able to muster, but then again, they are in Texas.

Come to find out that Toby and Tanner are on a bit of a bank robbing bender. In some cases, the rush appears to outweigh the necessity for Tanner, but Toby is far more level-headed. Partly because that’s just his demeanor; partly because he has to be for his boys. Tanner and Toby are polar opposites in a lot of ways. Tanner has a mean streak; his crass carelessness often inviting trouble. Toby feels a sense of responsibility to do right by his family, making him far more concerned with doing the right thing. That idea often disagrees with whatever Tanner’s got going on.

The end game here is saving the family’s ranch in West Texas, but at what cost? Causing a commotion in The Lone Star State is a good way to get everyone in the vicinity to draw their guns, and trigger happy Tanner has no problem following suit. When the news of the robberies reach the local jurisdiction, the hunt is on and two of the best rangers in TX are hot on the trail.

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If I’m ever on the run from the law, I don’t want Jeff Bridges donning the badge behind me. Bridges plays Hamilton. He’s the version of Rooster Cogburn who stays on the right side of the law and doesn’t drink nearly as much. Nearing retirement, Hamilton and his partner, Parker (Gil Birmingham), track the bandit brothers all over Texas, looking at patterns and estimating where they might make a mistake.

For me, this movie felt like a less engaging version of No Country For Old Men. Jeff Bridges, of course, slightly reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff character; Toby and Tanner representing a far less menacing, fluffier version of Anton Chigurh.

I always enjoy Jeff Bridges. The movie gives good character development with both Hamilton and Parker and Toby and Tanner. Hamilton is endlessly razzing Parker for being a “half-breed” and throwing cleverly crafted, racially charged jabs his way. Parker, in turn, takes the high road, recognizing that his partner is a bit long in the tooth, almost retired, and that he, to quote Matt Hooper in Jaws, “Won’t have to take this abuse much longer.”

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Hell or High Water is OK. I didn’t love it, I didn’t notice anything exceptional about it, and I definitely didn’t think it was as funny as everyone else deems it. I did enjoy the score quite a bit. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis do a nice job of combining soft piano with that sort of spine-tingling string thing that nearly the entire OST to There Will Be Blood is made of. The cinematography knocked it out of the park, too. Great, big wide shots and wonderful use of the landscape.

Overall, it’s fine. It’s got a bit of charm and wit, and it’s got Chris Pine’s giant dome — seriously, where did the costumes department find a ski mask that would fit over that thing — but I guess I was just expecting something… more. It’s like an itch I can’t quite scratch. I’m not gonna tell you not to see it. You’re a grown ass adult and you can do whatever you want. If I were you, though, I’d wait for Netflix.

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