Chris Pine may be living the good life thanks to his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, but he also seems to embrace the movie star life as much as he runs from it. From insane roles in Smokin’ Aces and Stretch to indie fare like Z for Zachariah, more than anything Pine comes across as someone who simply enjoys acting. In the magnificent Hell or High Water, he’s never been better.
Pine, looking like he hasn’t showered in a week, and his Finest Hours co-star Ben Foster play brothers struggling to make ends meet in rural Texas. To improve their lot in life, they’ve hatched a plan to rob several branches of the same bank over the course of a few days, but to what end – besides the obvious – is a mystery. On the case is a soon-to-be retired lawman Jeff Bridges, who encounters resistance from everyone who could identify the two robbers. Why? Because they’re robbing banks. And most everybody in Hell or High Water hates banks.
Hell or High Water is infused with a personality that can only come from being set in Texas. Citizens carry firearms and form impromptu posses to catch criminals, the police are racist, both toward suspects and themselves, and oil is salvation.
The film yearns for a time when small towns still mattered. When people went on robbery sprees and Westerns were popular. Almost every location in Hell or High Water is set in a dying town, with buildings boarded up and the only signs of commerce billboards advertising quick cash loans designed by banks to bleed poor people dry. At one point, a character even comments that it’s no wonder his children don’t want to follow in his footsteps.
The longing for yesteryear is one thing, but Hell or High Water takes things up a level with a post-modern, cynical mentality that’s almost meta. Characters contemplate their situation, even though they’ve seen their story played out to the point the outcome is obvious to everyone, including them. Even Jeff Bridges’s retiring cop tells his Native American partner that one day he’ll miss the racist comments.
Working with Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, director David Mckenzie (Starred Up) gives Hell or High Water the same look and feel of Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar nominated film. Hell or High Water has been mentioned as a companion to Sicario and on some level that might be correct. The biggest difference between the two is where Sicario looked to the future, Hell or High Water remains firmly entrenched in the past.
With the disappointing summer movie slate coming to an end, Hell or High Water is a refreshing, back-to-basics film that’s not only one of the best this season, but one of the best this year.