Tag Archives: Western

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

Seen at Cannes International Film Festival 2016

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 September 2016

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham

USA 2016

106 mins

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.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our Cannes 2016 coverage.

Watch the trailer:

No Man’s Land

No Mans Land
No Man’s Land

Director: Ning Hao

Writers: Ning Hao, Shu Ping, Xing Aina

Cast: Xu Zheng, Yu Nan, Huang Bo, Duo Bujie

Original title: Wu ren qu

China 2013

117 mins

One of the most thoroughly enjoyable films in the Berlinale 2014 Competition line-up, No Man’s Land was originally shot in 2009, but then held by censorship authorities and rescheduled several times over the past few years because of its allegedly negative portrayal of the police. After at least three official resubmissions and endless editing and re-cutting, the currently circulating version of the film finally got a general release in China in 2013. Except for its newly attached, and effectively arbitrary ending, it comes as a welcome surprise that Ning Hao’s wildly cynical (and frequently bonkers) fable remains tightly paced and eminently fun to watch.

A nihilistic neo-Western road movie comedy thriller, No Man’s Land concerns the relationship between man’s animal instincts and social responsibility, with greed being the driving force in a spectacular cat and mouse game set on a lonely stretch of the Gobi Desert highway. The action-packed, if inherently simplistic, plot spins around attorney Pan Xiao, a swanky city slicker who drives to the remote desert region of Xinjiang to defend Lao Da, a falcon poacher accused (and, in fact, guilty) of murder. An expert in his profession, Pan manages to get him off the hook, but when the two men sit down to settle business, disagreements about Pan’s fees lead the greedy lawyer to take over the reins and drive off in his client’s brand new red mustang. And while things may have been slightly ‘off’ from the outset, they inevitably turn sour from here.

As he rushes back to town for his very own book launch party, Pan gets caught in an escalating cycle of ugly misunderstandings that, eventually, prevent him from meeting his self-aggrandising commitments. And it’s not to say he isn’t trying. It’s just that every one of his more or less ingenious attempts to save his skin is answered with more car crashes, gunfire, high kicks and heavy punches.

With its engine deliberately set to run idle, the film adopts a blatant gonzo style and mocking tone that aptly serve its underlying philosophical parable about a society which has gone completely off the rails, while pitch-black wit and occasional daredevil stunts ensure that one does not lose interest for too long. Visually compelling and suitably fitted with a boisterous Morricone-inspired score, No Man’s Land is, quite literally, a blast.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our LFF 2014 coverage.