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Glance at the parched world of Hell or High Water , the new film from director David Mackenzie , and all will look like a Western should: slow-cooked Texas, a pair of desperados, a trail of robbed banks, a wry and weary sheriff. But let the film sit with you and soon it seems like a ghost story too, the cattle whittled down to skin and bone, a rusted windmill creaking. He is played by Jeff Bridges, which gives you your first reason to go and see it.
There will be more.
On their own too are the outlaws, each trying to settle up with the past. But their dynamic may not be quite what you might think: we learn that the short-fuse jailbird Tanner has been talked into the crime spree by his younger brother, the first upended expectation in a film loaded with them. The script is written by a former actor, Taylor Sheridan, which you might guess from the pristine lines he hands the cast. Less expected, perhaps, is the skill with which grand themes — land and oil — are stitched into the human drama.
come hell or high water
The reward is a string of fiercely live performances: Pine in particular is startlingly good, his square-jawed persona cut with something bruised and bleak. After their first successful robbery of the day, brothers Toby Chris Pine and Tanner Ben Foster , clad in ski masks, drive to the next town over to stick up another branch, driving past signs advertising home refinancing and debt relief.
At the next bank, Toby and Tanner run into a customer depositing a box of old pennies he found in his barn. As they exit the building with a handful of cash, the customer grabs his revolver and shoots as they flee, firing wildly at their getaway car. Made on a small budget and released in August, when films like Suicide Squad dominated at the box office, it was one of the surprise successes of the year, and now seems headed for Oscar glory.
The nobler Toby and the live-wire Tanner are committing their crimes for a good reason, though it takes a while for their plot to fully come into focus—long enough that the audience is vaguely on their side without totally understanding why. Hell or High Water is as jarring and uncomfortable as it is tense and fun. Yes, there are parts of America that still feel like a cowboy nation—and everyone at the bank, be they security guards or customers, might be toting a gun on their hip.
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