Film review: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a gripping and clever thriller, combining the craft and themes of a modern blockbuster with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of an old-fashioned western.

Oct 27, 2016, updated Oct 27, 2016
Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine.

Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine.

Set against the backdrop of country Texas still suffering from the fallout of the GFC, Hell or High Water tells the story of brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) who reconcile after years apart to rob a series of bank branches to save their family farm from foreclosure. With everyone seemingly on their side, they run into some trouble when veteran Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his half Comanche partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) catch wind of their plan.

Writer Taylor Sheridan and director David Mackenzie have collaborated to create a truly wonderful film. Sheridan’s fantastic script ripples with black humour. Cinematography by Giles Nuttgens is particularly beautiful, often using odd shots through wheat fields and neon lights to add character to scenes.

Pine and Foster play off each other well: their brotherly banter is great fun to watch but the when the real emotions come out to play they are both raw and sincere. Foster is chronically underrated as an artist and his performance outshines that of his better-known co-star. Meanwhile veterans Bridges and Birmingham put on a classic buddy cop routine, with great chemistry. All four roles are cast perfectly.

When watching a well-made film, it’s sometimes hard to point out the little things that that make people say ‘I don’t know I just liked it’. In this case, the little things include the sombre soundtrack, composed superbly by Australians (and frequent collaborators) Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and lovely little shots of quick cash loan signs on the freeway – a reminder of the brothers’ noble cause.

Hell or High water avoids the senseless shoot ’em up culture of current thrillers and provides an easy-to-watch date-night film with a curious story and a well-oiled cast.

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