Hell or High Water (2016), Dir. David Mackenzie

Hell or High Water (2016), Dir. David Mackenzie
I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.
— Toby Howard, Hell or High Water (2016)

Stars: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham.
Director: David Mackenzie
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan

Damn. This is one brilliant film. It is shot with so much devotion to beauty, to simplicity, to mood, to character, to the environment. This is one of the prettier films this year and that alone places this at the top of the pile.

But it is not just beauty alone that makes this film so good, it is that the story is so understandable, each character has their own rationale and you really never choose any of their sides yet empathise with them all. Toby (Chris Pine) has asked his criminal brother, Tanner (Ben Foster) to help him rob a few Texas Midlands Banks as their mother's ranch will be seised by said bank after her death. The plan is to rob just enough to pay the mortgage and interest then entrust it to Toby's two boys that live with his ex-wife.

The plan works, the brothers are making their way through them with little trouble which makes Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Parker's (Gil Birmingham) job to catch them so much harder. It is a classic cops and robbers tale told within a landscape which has forsaken so many. The landscape in this film feels as though it is dying and taking its people with it. This land which was once Comanche's before the white man stole it off them is now being taken by the change of time. It is difficult to make money when jobs in the area no longer exist.

When the film opened I could not tell what time it was set. It could have easily been set in the 80s or the 90s, with that in mind it is kind of depressing to realise that it is set in present time. This land and the people who live there are stuck in a time that no longer exists which underpins the hardship that this land and its people are struggling with.

This is a film based on such sad understandings of its world. Here we have the helplessness of the cycle of poverty that trickles down from generation to generation. Here we have continual racism that must forever be dragged along and it gets heavier and heavier with every offensive roll off the tongue. Here is the constant reminder that this land has been taken from its native people and the knowledge that no apology or sense of remorse will ever exist from the people who took it. This film is layered in societal norms that if read at face value can be seen as pure ignorance and targeting the people who agree with it. Or it can be read as acknowledging these facts and making the audience face this and start the uncomfortable journey to understand that they take part in this cycle of disrespect. 

This film is special not by breaking the mould of similar films but by using that mould to tell something deeper and more powerful.

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2