Published: 9 September, 2016
by DAN CARRIER
HELL OR HIGH WATER
Directed by David Mckenzie
5 stars our of 5
THE sub-prime mortgage crisis that killed towns and cities across America provides the backdrop for this superb drama/thriller of two brothers who turn to robbing the banks that have killed their communities.
Toby (Chris Pine) looked set to be permanently marooned on a creaking verandah, watching the dust storms on his abandoned ranch, if it wasn’t for his gun-slinging crook of a brother, Tanner (Ben Foster). We learn these Texan ranchers have been lassoed by a misfortune handed to them by the banks, by fate and of their own making. Their mother has died a slow and painful death and we are introduced to the siblings as they set out on a series of bank robberies to raise funds for a specific reason – one that only gradually becomes clear.
Meanwhile, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is heading towards retirement. He and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) want to nail these small-time crooks before someone gets hurt and we’re taken along for the ride as they use their detective skills to trawl over the very scant clues they have picked up.
It feels like Hamilton’s name was chosen on purpose, as he shares the moniker with the leads in East of Eden, and he could easily wander into a Steinbeck novel of the Old West or perhaps one of his Great Depression tales.
But the film’s main influence is the classic Western. We have Texas rangers chasing down desperate outlaws, guns being toted, saloon bars visited and Native Americans speaking of stolen lands. This could be the Wild 19th century. But instead of horses, these crooks saddle up battered stolen cars that they drive through a dusty landscape covered with rotting industries pock-marked by adverts offering debt relief and orders proclaiming foreclosures. This is rust belt, post-crash America that has created a situation where the brothers feel they can only resort to desperate measures to fulfil their aims.
There is not a moment in this film that feels dud, wrong or imperfect. I could have sat and simply gazed at the screen, soaking up the atmosphere. Characters pop out of every nook and cranny, conversations have an authentic humour to them, and the plot saddles up and rides off into the sunset with you by its side.
An almost perfect film, an unmissable experience, and the most enjoyable piece of cinema I have seen in a very long time.