Hell or High Water Review 4

Director: David Mackenzie

Year: 2016

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

Running Time: 102mins

Hell or High Water follows the exploits of the Howard brothers, Tanner and Toby, as they rob various Texas Midland Banks. In a large chunk of irony, they are doing it to pay the Texas Midland Bank off so that they can reclaim their property after their mother defaulted on her mortgage.

From the very moment that this film starts you are placed into the middle of the action. The long opening shot (as seen above and broken down by Director David Mackenzie), moving from the corner of a building with the car moving in the background, panning the whole way around until we see the robbers appear and take the teller into the bank, is a fantastic shot and draws you in completely. And then we get the inside of the bank and, although it is obvious we aren’t watching professional bank robbers, they do have a plan and a method and they intend to stick to it, for the most part to reach their goal.

Tanner (Ben Foster) is the elder and more wild brother and he has spent 10 years in prison, released last year. Toby (Chris Pine) is more collected and calm and has been looking after their mother whilst she was sick but she has now passed away and the financial strife has been brought to the fore. The interactions between these two brothers are the cornerstone of this film, it is completely believable and brings a smile to your face when they are in full flow but also you feel for them in their plight and their plan to get one over on the banks that are trying to get one over on them.

Texas Rangers are made aware of the brothers activities and are soon on their trail. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is an old, smart mouthed, snarky commenting, close to retirement lawman and he is paired with Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), a straight talking, mostly serious Ranger of Native Indian descent. Some of the interactions between these two are brilliant and brought more than a snigger a couple of times. Although these moments are great this isn’t what this film is about, it’s about the chase for money and the Rangers working to catch up.

The brothers are doing a bad thing but they are doing it for good reasons, and pretty much everyone else says that they would do the same to stick it to the banks who are destroying the towns and communities of this area. Starkly obvious with all the shots of debt relief signs and short-term loans that are littered along the roadside.

It does ask questions about the way life has changed and is lived nowadays. We know what they are doing is wrong but we know why they are doing it and we support them in their quest, making the good guys (the lawmen) the villains of this piece, but we know that they aren’t. Everyone knows that the real crooks are the banks and the corporations that are doing everything they can to make money, not caring one iota for the people that they are ripping off in the process, which is evident in the final bank scene where Toby is trying to pay off his debt before the bank foreclose and the banker is doing everything he can to try to stop this deal going through on time. It’s only through Toby’s persistence and attitude that he manages to complete what he set out to do, almost twisting the bankers arm to do his job properly.

Even Alberto sums it up in a wonderful speech in a moment of downtime with Marcus;

150 years ago we owned all this land then your grandparents came and took it from them, now they are having their land taken too, by them (pointing to the Texas Midland Bank that they are staking out)

Some stunning visuals as they travel around the wide open spaces of West Texas, often contrasted by the run down and dilapidated towns and businesses closed down. The pacing is superb, not racing through but not slow either. Even the more somber moments on-screen draw your attention, soaking up the atmosphere. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is wonderful, the acting is spot on, it’s a small but perfectly cast group of actors but they all work so well together in their respective pairs, the dialogue bouncing off each other so naturally and so realistically. I found Taylor’s other screenplay credit Sicario to be a wonderful film and Sheridan has done it again here with Hell or High Water.


I have been really impressed by the job David Mackenzie has done on this. Everything slots into place, the characters blend os well together, the story works and keeps you interested and the camerawork is superb. As a package I haven’t seen a better film for a long while.

The soundtrack and music are again perfectly selected and fit seamlessly into the film, blending and enhancing as required. I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave for a while and his work here with Warren Ellis is no exception.

Looks great, sounds great, works great, IS great. This is fighting for the top of my films watched for this year. Go see it if you can.

Rating:     ½

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4 thoughts on “Hell or High Water Review

  • thoughtsallsorts

    Great review – after having come across so many mixed reviews and now yours, I think I should just watch it. It is after all, waiting patiently for a watch near the top of my To Watch list. Your post has pushed it up some. And with Jeff Bridges and Nic Cave…it surely must work.