Directed by David Mackenzie Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster Film Review by Owen Herman
2016 has been a pretty poor year for summer blockbusters. A soulless reboot here, a panned superhero movie there, it’s safe to say the general consensus is not great. However, just as summer is coming to a close (I saw this on the “last hot day” apparently), a real gem has emerged in the form of Hell or High Water. A western action thriller and the best film to feature an explosion, and there have been a lot, since Captain America back in April. The clever thing about Hell or High Water though, is that director David Mackenzie realises that explosions and gunplay do not make a great film, even if it is a thriller. Here the ‘action’ part of action thriller takes the back seat to great dialogue and fantastic character development.
The film centres around two great pairings. Brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are bank robbers attempting to raise a certain amount for a noble reason. Hot on their heels are two Texas Rangers, near-retirement Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Both of these brilliant pairings are played to perfection, resulting in great chemistry and reasons to root for both parties, even if they are against each other. Jeff Bridges, in particular, is superb. Writer Taylor Sheridan’s previous work was the near perfect action thriller Sicario, so it is unsurprising that the script is strong. The dialogue is sharp, constantly witty and completely engages you with these characters. Unfortunately the film does lack the real thrills of Sicario; there are well constructed moments of slow tension and explosive action, but it lacks any truly great set piece moment.
There is a slow pace to the film, allowing you to really sink your teeth into the characters and story. It actually reminded me a lot of Breaking Bad, something that will heavily influence TV and cinema for years to come. Despite not being the most obvious comparison, aside from the ‘noble reasons behind terrible crime’ theme, Hell or High Water has similar pacing and focus on characters but also the skill to engage those looking for less talk and more action.
Hell or High Water is a fantastic example of a strong story, script and performances all coming together to provide the perfect film backbone. As the summer ends, David Mackenzie has made something that, although not phenomenal, is very well made and highly entertaining.
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