Film Review: Hell Or High Water (MA15+) (USA, 2016) rises above the simplicities of its genre

Proving that his script work on Sicario was no fluke, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has taught an old dog some new tricks with Hell Or High Water, a should-be predictable crime tale that’s peppered with so many nuances and perceptive characters that it rises above its genre simplicities. Despite director David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Young Adam) hailing from the UK he captures the small Texan town mentality the film homes, and harnesses a trio of career-best performances from his leading men – Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster – in the process.

After years of estrangement, brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) plan a series of bank robberies together in a last ditch attempt to raise the funds needed to pay off the family land the bank is close to foreclosing on; for Toby it’s an act of desperation, Tanner more so a necessity to satisfy his unhinged tendencies. After seemingly proving themselves successful at their latest heists, local law enforcer Marcus (Bridges), an on-the-verge-of-retirement Ranger, hones in on the duo and can’t help but feel the need to see this crime scene through to the bitter end.

It’s the simplest of stories, and it appears from the offset that Toby and Tanner are easily read characters, but Sheridan is determined to underlay them with depth in a bid for the audience to understand their intentions. As the brothers, Pine and Foster are outstanding, the former transcending through his classic good looks and piercing blue eyes whilst the latter is effortless in his character’s unpredictability; Foster’s wildcard temperament culminating in one of the film’s most exciting sequences atop a canyon armed with little more than rage and a rifle. Bridges is equally as impressive, the actor turning in his finest work in years as a drawling wisecracker of sorts whose greatest joy stems from his oft-inappropriate banter with his part Indian/Mexican partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham); the moments involving these two tend to soften the film’s edges with a surprising amount of well-timed humour.

With a pitch-perfect soundtrack courtesy of Australian rock duo Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Hell Or High Water is a tension-laced drama that revels in its reek of authenticity. The film tests our own allegiance to these fully realised characters – we barrack for Marcus just as much as we do for Toby and Tanner – and as it slithers towards its closing moments, we’re left with a tantalising thought of what’s to come for a film that wins you over with its subtle but smart nature.


Hell Or High Water hits Australian cinemas on Thursday, October 27th.


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Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.