David Mackenzie has delivered a solid neo-western that is as astute as it is entertaining.
Toby (Chris Pine) is in a jam: the small farm he’s inherited from his recently deceased mother is in danger of being sold by the bank unless he pays off the heavy debt that comes with it. Easier said than done, but Toby and his just-out-of-jail brother Tanner (Ben Foster) are on a mission. Together they set out to rob as many Texas Midland branches as they need to in order to raise the cash and, ultimately, beat the thieving banks at their own game.
However, the force Toby and Tanner haven’t reckoned with is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges on fine form), who comes up with an equally shrewd plan for their capture. Constantly teasing his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) about his Indian-Mexican heritage, the veteran cop is on his last case before retirement and determined to leave his job on a high. And so the cat-and-mouse chase takes the action across the Texas badlands to a climactic showdown that settles scores on both sides.
Following on from his deftly executed prison drama Starred Up, David Mackenzie has crafted a film that expertly blends flashes of violence with social encounters and a welcome sense of edginess, carried brilliantly by his talented cast. Refined by a fitting soundtrack from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Hell or High Water grabs its audience from the start and then doesn’t really let go for another couple of hours, while taking well-judged turns into areas where there’s no moral compass. Labelled as a modern-day western, it might not bring anything new to the genre, but it’s smart and ferocious and highly entertaining.
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