Movies based on the western mayhem are not in vogue anymore. Gone are the days of the Clint Eastwood classics. You do get one odd movies like No Country For Old Men which presents the menacing west with vigour, but otherwise the genre is pretty much asleep. So, when you watch a film which tries to wake up this genre and hits the bullseye in the process, you are more than happy. Hell or High Water is just that movie.
The heist drama tells the story of two Texas brothers–Toby (Chris Pine), and Tanner (Ben Foster), who come together after years to rob branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land. For them, the hold-ups are just part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that seemed to have been stolen from under them. Justice seems to be theirs, until they find themselves on the radar of Texas Ranger, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) looking for one last grand pursuit on the eve of his retirement, and his half-Comanche partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their scheme, and with the Rangers on their heels, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the values of the Old and New West murderous collide.
The camaraderie between the brothers is evident right from the start which intermittently shifts to that between an old Texas Ranger and his junior. The shift of scenes between the robbers and the chasers is brilliantly portrayed. The relationships, seasoned with the right amount of dialogues and thrills make up for a smooth screenplay, one of the best in recent times for sure. Director David Mackenzie succeeds in making not only a slow-burn westerner, but also a gripping thriller at the same time.
The terrific cast – Chris Pine as the soft-spoken and sad young father and Ben Foster as the trouble-making goon make up for perfect choices. Jeff Bridges is as restrained as ever, with a great turn by Gil Birmingham as Jeff’s junior side-kick.
The interior lands of Texas have been showcased with the right amount of raw appeal we would want to see on-screen. Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens showcases the sweltering heat with a bright and beautiful canvas, while the addictive score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis keeps the pace moving with the right vibrance. The final showdown action sequences are beautifully shot, adding the entertainment quotient to the slow but effective pace.
“We ain’t stealin’ from you,” Pine’s Toby Howard croaks during one of the robberies. “We’re stealin’ from the bank.” The movie’s message is clear: debt relief billboards proliferate and oil wells scar ranch lands. If you love slow-burn neo-noir western dramas, this is a great choice. Resurrecting the power of westerners in the perfect way, Hell or High Water is a must watch. Neo-noir at its best! It deserves the acclaim and the multiple Oscar nods, and I guess a few trophies will surely come its way. Coen Brothers will be proud of this.