Hell or High Water is easily my second favorite movie of the year, not far behind the hard to classify gem Midnight Special. Of course Peter Berg produced (and was at one point attached to direct) this shit-kicking, dusty, Texas-set tale of brotherly love and bank robbing. It’s nothing revolutionary, but rather, underrated filmmaker David Mackenzie does everything just about correct, with a perfect sense of tone, atmosphere, and dramatics. Jeff Bridges brilliantly garbles his way through yet another study of neo-Western machismo, the volatile Ben Foster is literally a loose-cannon all throughout this dangerous little film, and Chris Pine delivers the best, most nuanced performance of his career, while resembling Colin Farrell in both Miami Vice and True Detective Season 2. There’s zero fat on Taylor Sheridan’s terse and authentic screenplay, and after his firecracker of a script for last year’s thoroughly absorbing Sicario, he’s at the top of my list in terms of writers whose name means quality.
Shot with striking clarity in a no nonsense fashion by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, the film never overreaches, and gets down and dirty with its locations, themes, and overall presentation. Pacing is kept crisp and clean by ace cutter Jake Roberts. The score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is evocative without ever becoming cloying, hitting repeated grace notes to match more menacing chords of sonic edginess. The topical overtones about the greediness of banks and the lunacy of open-carry gun permit laws only sweeten the deal. Honestly, watching this film slightly restored my faith in the theatrical experience, after months of films that have failed to lived up to their various expectations, or just a lack of interesting options in general. I was on board with Mackenzie as a filmmaker after the one-two-punch of Perfect Sense and Starred Up, but this movie really announces the arrival of someone special, and is one instance where the critical acclaim is highly warranted.
Review by Nick Clement