Once again, Hong Kong proves that its motto of being “Asia’s World City” is a joke. HELL OR HIGH WATER is finally hitting our cinema screens nearly seven months after it played in Taiwan, and five months after it played in Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. It’s also one of the last high profile, Oscar®-nominated films from 2016 to come here. (FENCES still hasn’t come here and it probably won’t for the obvious reason.) Why bother at this point? Anyone here who had wanted to see it, has probably already seen it.
But if you’re one of the few who isn’t familiar with the story, after two masked men rob a couple of branches of the Texas Midland Bank, Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, THE BIG LEBOWSKI) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham, the TWILIGHT series) are called in to figure out who is committing the crime and why the amounts are so small each time. It doesn’t take too long before Hamilton turns his sights toward brothers Tanner (Ben Foster, THE PROGRAM) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine, STAR TREK BEYOND; JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT) but he still can’t work out their motive. Sure, Tanner is an ex-con but he was sent to jail for killing their abusive father. He doesn’t quite fit the profile of your typical bank robber. And Toby’s record is squeaky clean. As far as appearances go, the guys are living quietly with their invalid mother on her very modest ranch.
But appearances can be deceiving and, as the story unfolds, we start to understand the brothers’ reasons for choosing this bank and the amounts. They clearly thought long and hard about their plan… and it’s a good one. It also doesn’t hurt that everyone in this economically depressed corner of west Texas has little sympathy for any bank, let alone Texas Midland.
In years to come, HELL OR HIGH WATER will be the answer to the trivia question, “Which neo-Western film about two bank-robbing brothers was not written or directed by the Coen Brothers?” The film certainly has all the Coen hallmarks – a witty script with some good twists and turns, complex characters and creative camerawork. The opening scene, which seems to be one long take (but may just be deft editing), immediately pulls you into the action as the camera spirals around a bank that the brothers are about to hold up. But this film was directed by Scotsman David Mackenzie, who previously wowed audiences with the very gritty STARRED UP, and written by Taylor Sheridan, who had similar success penning SICARIO. Curiously, Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® but, while his performance was good, it wasn’t a huge stretch for him as he was playing a cross between “The Dude” and Tommy Lee Jones’ character in another Coen brothers’ film, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (which, by the way, is also set in west Texas). Perhaps the Academy was just recognizing his body of work with this nomination.
Chris Pine is not my favourite actor but he does some respectable work here. Like Michael Fassbender (whose film, TRESPASS AGAINST US, is opening here next week), I respect him for continuing to make low key films while still doing Hollywood blockbusters like the STAR TREK franchise and the soon-to-be-released WONDER WOMAN. The best performance in the film, though, is Ben Foster’s, who portrays Tanner as a wonderful combination of loose cannon and fiercely loyal brother. It’s too bad he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar® but his time will come soon enough.
If you haven’t seen HELL OR HIGH WATER yet, definitely go see it now. It’s well worth your time and money!
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