Hell or High Water, from director David Mackenzie, is the closest we’ll get to a modern adaptation of the western genre. Cowboys, outlaws, bank heists and gritty deserts create a landscape like no other. Instead of horses and saddles, we’ve got stolen cars. Instead of hard drinking outlaws, we have hard on their luck civilians, with nowhere else to turn but a life of crime.
Casting Chris Pine these days isn’t exactly a hallmark of quality, and Hell or High Water may be his best work to date. He really manages to impress under the tense circumstances his character, Toby Howard, finds himself involved in. With some strong chemistry alongside Ben Foster as elder brother Tanner, the two have some undeniably great scenes together that really play around with the desperations of the two brothers. That being said, there’s a little more to be desired from Howard’s character, and while he provides a serviceable enough performance, it’s not as if he gives us some knock out stuff.
How Bridges didn’t manage to sweep up an Academy Award for this one is beyond me. By far one of his greatest performances of all, playing soon to be retired Sheriff Marcus Hamilton on one last case. Hamilton is a believable supporting character, with the traditional need to make one last break before he closes a chapter of his life. In pursuit of desperate brothers turned bank robbers, he seizes the opportunity in a performance that blends aimless heroism with a truly incredible performance.
All of this comes together well under Mackenzie’s consistently great direction. The barren wastelands of a modern wild west are fitted together with delicate care, and we get a real sense of world building from the occasional glimpses we get into the backstories of our leading characters. It’s hard not to feel sorry for every character throughout, with each having a particular vice that begins pushing them towards their individual breaking points. It’s how they get there that is shown in great detail though, and it’s by far one of the best parts of the film.
All in all, this is one of the strongest films to come from pretty much everyone involved in its production. A far stretch better than anything Pine has starred in since, and one of the many great Bridges performances available. All contained under the strong direction of David Mackenzie, it’s hard not to get taken away with Hell or High Water.