Editor’s Notes: Hell or High Water is out on in its respective home video format November 22th.
Set in the vastness of West Texas, Hell or High Water (Lionsgate) focuses on brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), who rob banks. Working mainly in the early morning hours, they hold up only regional branches of the same bank and take only small-denomination, untraceable bills. The reason: the bank is maneuvering to foreclose on the family ranch, which Toby has just discovered rests over a deposit of oil. Toby needs to pay off the mortgage and taxes for the family to keep the property, but he’s fighting the clock. So he enlists Tanner to help him steal enough money from the bank in time to make the necessary payment to the bank.
Tanner is a small-time career criminal and has just recently been released from jail. Toby, who has never been involved in any kind of crime before, sees the robberies as the only way to retain the ranch and secure a future for his two estranged sons.
Trying to understand the modus operandi of the robbers is Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger who is soon about to retire and doesn’t look forward to it. He and his deputy, native American-Mexican Alberto (Gil Birmingham), gradually piece together a profile of the thieves and, based on their previous robberies, home in on the bank they think is most likely to be hit next.
There’s a comfortable camaraderie between Marcus and Alberto. Marcus ribs his deputy about his ethnicity and Alberto returns the friendly put-downs in kind. Their repartee and easy companionability makes for one of the screen’s more believable buddy relationships. Scenes of their banter are interspersed with the brothers’ ongoing crime spree.
Things go smoothly for the brothers and they escape capture until complications occur at one of the banks. After that, the police close in, and their robbery spree turns deadly.
Director David Mackenzie beautifully portrays the desert expanse of the locale, which gives the brothers plenty of room to elude the authorities. There are many long shots that accentuate the panorama of a hot, dusty, unforgiving landscape as the brothers move from one bank to the next. Tanner appears energized by each successful robbery while Toby is more controlled, driven by common sense more than euphoria. He repeatedly tells Tanner to slow down as they race away from their latest robbery, knowing the details can do them in.
Both Pine and Foster turn in outstanding performances. We believe them as brothers, even though their temperaments are so different. They accept each other, flaws and all, and aren’t judgmental. That acceptance has formed their bond and made them reliable cohorts. Pine, best known for playing Captain Kirk in the updated “Star Trek” franchise, is especially impressive, conveying Toby’s sensitivity and inherent decency.
Foster (The Program, Warcraft) has the more flamboyant role as hothead, impulsive brother Tanner. Though unsentimental and on the surface unemotional, he joins his brother in a plan that will ultimately benefit Toby’s family more than himself, though he’d be the first to dismiss his motives as unselfish. Tanner can whoop it up and swagger his way from one robbery to the next, but he still retains loyalty to family.
Bridges brings his world-weary, been-there, seen-it-all manner to the role of Marcus, a career lawman who is apprehensive about facing days without the job he’s done his whole adult life. Marcus is intrigued by the spate of atypical thefts in his own back yard and is determined to accumulate information and follow leads the old-fashioned way — by interviewing locals, figuring out how the robbers think, and patiently waiting to see if his theories bear fruit.
Director Mackenzie is especially adept at depicting ordinary folks, whether a friendly waitress, an elderly bank customer, or a diner at the local eatery. These are people trying to feed their families and stretch hard-to-come-by dollars, and they help illustrate the economic and social life of the area. Everyone seems to be struggling, trying their best to make ends meet.
Rated R, Hell or High Water often has the feel of Bonnie & Clyde with its detailed robberies of small-town banks and quick getaways. But this is a contemporary picture in which the setting isn’t the Great Depression, but a depressed post-housing-bust economy when the banks are making money from the desperation of hard-working people.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a filmmaker Q & A; footage from the red carpet premiere; and 3 behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes. A digital HD copy is also enclosed.