Vol. 9, No. 25 – September 14 – September 27, 2016 – Movie Review

Hell or High Water / 4 Palm Trees
by Eduardo Victoria/[email protected]

Hell or High Water is a film about characters, who, for the most part, have been marginalized and forgotten by the system, each finding different ways to survive amidst the fringes of society. The film captures how violence is a permanent stain that marks us and our families for generations, each exploring the cost of crime and a dog-eat-dog mentality that perpetuates a cycle of self-destruction. It is a modern western that confronts head-on a broken financial system meant to keep people forever in debt.

A divorced dad named Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother, Tanner (Ben Foster). After the death of their mother, the two are desperate to save their family’s ranch, attempting a focused blitz on the small chain of banks threatening to foreclose on their land. The stakes are personal, with Toby trying to secure a future for his family, while Tanner relishes the thrill of it all, welcoming the chance to do right by his brother. After setting their plan into motion, a fierce Texas Ranger named Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) set the brothers in their sights, with director David Mackenzie finding accessibility through some unexpected humor and a hypnotic pace. The performances are easily career highs from everyone involved.

There’s a lot going on in Mackenzie’s film, which takes a simple premise and adds sharp moral and cultural complexities. Mackenzie’s characters meet in the middle, united by their fight against time. Toby is looking towards his legacy while Tanner is trying to make up for lost time. Marcus is facing mandatory retirement while Alberto is forced to protect a way of life which didn’t spare his ancestors.

Mackenzie (armed with an economical script from Taylor Sheridan) really finds his footing by celebrating the moments between the frames – quiet, introspective scenes before the gun fights or moments of violent retribution. The film finds unbearable tension through this restraint, building up to the torrent of chaos we know is coming by investing us in the lives that hang in the balance.

It’s through this that the film feels totally lived in, with cinematographer Giles Nuttgens’ photography contrasting intimate conversations with Texas’ vast, barren landscapes. As the film assuredly builds to an explosive conclusion, Mackenzie uses modern social context to highlight the diminishing cost of a life amidst capitalist America. Hell or High Water is one of the year’s absolute best, with searing chemistry from Ben Foster and Chris Pine bringing a critical look at a problem with no immediate solution.

Rated R. 116 minutes. Now playing at Cinemark downtown 10.

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