Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Movie Review: "Hell or High Water"

Hell or High Water is a pretty crazy, take-no-prisoners kind of movie, but one that gets you thinking as much as it gets your heart pumping.

Its plot is familiar: Toby Howard (Chris Pine) has been struggling, both emotionally and financially. He cared for his ailing mother at home on the family's West Texas ranch until her death, and now the bank is ready to take the ranch away. (It's not just money, mind you—there are rumors that there is a ton of oil that the state wants to drill for, but only once they take possession.)

Toby doesn't even have enough money to pay his ex-wife child support, so he is no financial position to pay the bank what is owed on the reverse mortgage and the back taxes. Desperate to save the property, more for his sons than anything, he does the only thing he can think of: floats a plan to his ex-con brother Tanner (a more-than-slightly-unhinged Ben Foster) about how they can get the money they need. Although it's clear that Tanner is the muscle and Toby is the brains behind the scheme, both clearly need each other more than they're willing to admit.

While Tanner is more confident than Toby that they'll pull the scheme off, what neither brother counts on is that quirky Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, in full curmudgeon mode), who is just a short time away from retirement, picks up their trail and is determined to foil their plans, if for no other reason than it delays his beginning to spend the rest of his life sitting on his porch, wondering what next. Hamilton and his partner, whom he loves to needle more than perhaps solving crimes, try to figure out the brothers' next move before they make it.

Much of the plot isn't necessarily surprising, but it is a crazy, fun movie, with both great action and tension as well as some unexpected moments of sensitivity. The performances truly elevate this from a typical crime movie, and make it a hell of a lot more enjoyable, too. Bridges takes the saltiness and orneriness of his True Grit performance and throws in some emotional depth for good measure, and he certainly chews the scenery from time to time as well. It's a role that film critics seem to love (deservedly so), and I won't be surprised to see him among the Oscar nominees for Best Supporting Actor next month.

I don't think Chris Pine gets nearly enough credit for his acting talent, either because of his looks or the fact that he plays Captain Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, but he is really compelling in this movie. But in my opinion, this movie revolves around Ben Foster. He is truly a whirling dervish in this movie, mischievous and crafty, reckless and protective, and he and Pine make a great team.

I feel like Foster is one of the most unheralded actors of his generation—he's turned in some fantastic performances in his career (check out The Messenger, for one), yet he doesn't get the acclaim he deserves. As much as award voters are singling out Bridges, Foster should be right up there, and it is a crime that he's really not getting mentioned.

I really enjoyed this movie, and thought it was well-written and well-directed, in addition to being well-acted. It's on the shortlist of movies being considered for a Best Picture nomination, deservedly so. It's definitely one hell of a ride.


  1. I think my library has ordered a copy of this - based on your review I will be watching it!

  2. It's a really great thriller--a friend of mine who is a big movie buff said it's her favorite movie of the year so far.