Hell Or High Water Review

Hell or High Water
  • Directing9
  • Writing9
  • Acting9

David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water is an unflinching heist film, grounded in Western Texas realism and soaked with raw and uncertain performances by Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. This isn't just the best film of the summer, but also perhaps one of the best films of the year.


David Mackenzie‘s Hell or High Water is an uncompromising drama that’s bounded by its performances and strengthened by its writing. Chris Pine and Ben Foster give two of the most charismatic performances of the year, while Jeff Bridges turns in another entertaining character in his ever-going line of Western “tough guys”. What makes Hell or High Water that much better is the intricate writing by Taylor Sheridan and the equipped direction by David Mackenzie.

Hell or High Water follows brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) as they rob a chain of banks in a somewhat interesting manner. They don’t exactly make a spectacle out of their heists, yet there seems to be an underlying point to each and every step of their journey.

Slowly, the film reveals the larger plan and suddenly Hell or High Water finds itself smack dab in the middle of 2016 as one of this year’s unsuspected best films.

David Mackenzie‘s film may not look like much after viewing a trailer or even reading a brief synopsis, but the quality is there, tucked inside the compact story and West Texas terrain.

Hell or High Water is a modern day Western mixed with the makings of a perfectly good heist film, yet it operates on rather small grounds. It’s refreshing watching the stakes when they’re at believable levels, yet it doesn’t take away from the intensity or importance of the situation.

Normally, heist films involve taking on millions of dollars or grand shoot-outs with dozens of casualties, yet Hell or High Water manages to capture that same excitement in a mostly empty part of Texas, which includes a couple shoot-outs that probably result in less than five deaths.

Yet here I sit writing my glowing review.

Hell or High Water works so damn well because of its well-balanced structure of directing, writing and acting.

David Mackenzie shoots the film with an everyday eye that focuses on the lives of simple men trying to achieve simple goals. Mackenzie captures the dead heat of Texas in a way that feels lived in and overly traveled, yet mysterious.

Taylor Sheridan‘s writing compliments Mackenzie’s direction with a script that’s busy, yet not confusing. The film’s intentions are rather simple and laid out in sort a way that unravels slow enough, yet not too slow.

The film wisely focuses not just on the two brothers, played with Southern drawls by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, but also the opposite side of the law, which is anchored down by a seasoned performance from Jeff Bridges.

Ben Foster‘s Tanner is the film’s dirtiest and wildest character without a doubt. Tanner has been in and out of prison his whole life and knows nothing but how to cause trouble, but he’s a family man that will do anything for those that he loves.

This brings us to Toby. Chris Pine‘s Toby is the moral compass of the film, balancing on the line of good and evil in terms of approaching a situation by what’s right and what is lawful. Is there a difference? I believe that Mackenzie’s direction, Sheridan’s writing and Pine’s performance helps answer that question in a way that doesn’t judge as much as it asks its audience to make up their mind on what the film is trying to say.

Jeff Bridges‘ performance isn’t nearly as engaging, yet it works, despite having seen him do this in quite a lot of films since True Grit. This time he’s much more weathered and yet just as determined as a cop that’s weeks away from retirement that gets one last go at being useful. His transformation is much more gradual and off-screen, yet it works because it helps the film feel rounded.

Hell or High Water isn’t a traditional action film, but it does feature enough gunfire and violence to keep your mind occupied. It’s a heist film that manages to deal with matters that stretch beyond the typical complications from robbing banks and trying to get away with it.

Hell or High Water is the direct result of an economic depression that’s left people vulnerable and uncertain, not to mention without hope. Desperation and revenge come into play, which makes way for the film’s larger story about justice and doing what is right.

What makes Hell or High Water one of the best films of the year is David Mackenzie‘s ability to pull it all off. The film speeds along as Tanner and Toby continue rolling the dice on what they think is right, while Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) attempts to figure out where they’re going to strike next.

Watching Pine sink his teeth into such a conflicted and uncertain character is a change of pace and an exciting turn for Pine, especially after watching him in Star Trek Beyond, which is something that he’s much more comfortable and use to.

Also, anytime we’re able to see Ben Foster headline a film is a genuine treat. He’s one of the most under-rated actors working today and it’s great seeing him command the screen, even if he tends to play similar roles. Occasionally something like Hell or High Water comes along, which is when he shines in that familiar setting, while also managing to bring that same intensity to the table, only with more backup power from his acting/writing/directing team.

Hell or High Water has rejuvenated my love for film after one of the most disappointing summers in recent memory. It’s a solid reminder not to judge a book by its cover or a film by a trailer, while also reassuring us that original content is still out there. It’s a smart heist film that has a lot more on its plate than simple action and shoot-outs, yet it still features enough of that to please. It’s mostly just a great drama, constructed with steady direction, solid writing and powerful performances.

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