Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water [2016] is the newest addition to the ever-growing neo-western catalogue. Set in modern west Texas, two brothers, one a hot-headed ex-con and the other an even-tempered divorced father, set out to rob banks in order to save their family ranch. All the while, they are pursued by a grizzled Texas Ranger on the brink of retirement and his partner. Hell or High Water is directed by David Mackenzie off of a script by Taylor Sheridan; and stars Chris Pine (Star Trek Beyond), Ben Foster (Lone Survivor), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), and Gil Birmingham (The Twilight Saga).

Familiar Territory, Brilliant Execution: It is a tale nearly as old as the art of cinema itself, one of redemption, moral ambiguity, and family. All the while, the picture manages to weave its timeless themes into a contemporary setting. Serving as a dark commentary on our own twisted system, Hell or High Water evokes a decidedly cynical viewpoint on banks and our financial infrastructure. The robberies in the film are targeted at one bank’s branches across the state, the very same bank that holds the lien on their ranch. Fear of foreclosure, of leaving behind nothing for your children, of the system swallowing you whole and spitting you out devoid of everything that makes you feel adequate; all fears that are unfortunately worsened by the very system we rely on to survive. Without these themes underscoring the film’s familiar narrative, its heist-driven formula would thrive on notions of greed and personal glory; alas, these characters are going through something terrifyingly common and make a choice to rob the system rather than submit to it. Their plights are relatable and their thievery is committed in the sole interest of getting out from under the debris.

Bow and Exit Stage Left: Every performance in this film feels powerful and authentic. Chris Pine swings and goes for the home run in what is almost undoubtedly the best performance of his career thus far (sorry, James T. Kirk), while Ben Foster gives a turn that is both angry and vulnerable. Jeff Bridges, as the aging Texas Ranger, gives a performance that is reminiscent of his take on “Rooster” Cogburn in 2010’s True Grit remake, while evoking a personality that simultaneously feels both fresh and familiar; as if Cogburn, Morgan Freeman’s detective in Se7en, and Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff in No Country For Old Men were all spliced together. He is a man the world has left behind (much like Jones’ character) and struggles with his own feelings of inadequacy in times that have changed. Whether it’s marked by his casual racism toward his partner (of both Mexican and Native American heritage), his cotton-mouthed inflection, or his near-irrational devotion to duty, Bridges inhabits all of it flawlessly and will probably garner some Oscar buzz for this performance.

All the Right Flavors in the Genre-Blender: Make no mistake about it: Hell or High Water is an entertaining film on top of all its dramatic flair. Its heist scenes are suspenseful while sacrificing none of the emotional undertones of the brothers’ crimes. Its dialogue-driven scenes are enthralling, particularly the interactions between the two brothers and one key exchange in the third act. On a dramatic level, Hell or High Water is remarkable. As a western, the picture adds a memorable stamp to its class, all the while proving how very durable the genre remains after many decades laid dormant. As a heist flick, it astonishes, injecting emotional weight and visceral bite into scenes that otherwise might be a going-through-the-motions exercise in a lesser movie.

Some of the Best that Modern Cinema has to Offer: On almost every level, Hell or High Water is a cinematic triumph. It is a film about people while being extraordinarily exciting in its own right as a heist film. Whether the narrative is following the two brothers or the two Texas rangers, the result is pure gold. The film transcends genre entertainment and becomes a subtle study on its intricate characters. While its settings and story beats may feel quite at home in a western, it is the film’s contemporary themes that elevate it above the rest. I give the highest of recommendations and do not hesitate to proclaim that as of August 18th, 2016, it is the best film I have seen this year.


Hell or High Water is a bold piece of neo-western genre-blending, elevating its familiar story beats with relatable themes and enthralling character drama. The film benefits from juggernaut performances from its cast and is some of the absolute best filmmaking 2016 has to offer.