Fast-paced heist movie revitalizes tired western genre


Photo reproduced by permission of Lionsgate

Victor Yang, Staff writer

Director David Mackenzie‘s film “Hell or High Water” separates itself from the rest of the heist movie genre by focusing on the characters more than the gun-play. The movie opens with the unprofessional robbery of a run-down West Texas bank by two brothers armed with pistols and ski masks. The small town setting immediately indicates that the movie wouldn’t be a Mission Impossible thriller, but instead a sauntering western.
Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his brother Tanner (Ben Foster) embark on several small-scale raids on Texas Midlands Banks, planning to pay off the bank that unfairly threatens to foreclose his deceased mother’s ranch with their own money. While Toby’s Robin Hood-like motivations are grounded in providing his estranged family financial security, his ex-con brother is in it for the thrill. On the case are retiring Texan Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).
The movie has not only snagged an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor (Jeff Bridges), but also for best picture, best original screenplay (Taylor Sheridan), and best film editing (Jake Roberts).
“Hell or High Water” draws its strength primarily from its charming dialogue and tight writing. Bridge’s slow, experienced character constantly banters with his half Native American partner Alberto. Likewise, Toby’s morally-rooted apprehension clashes with Tanner’s loose-cannon mentality. This friendly ribbing builds a deep sense of companionship and love for the two duos, creating characters the audience can genuinely care about.
It’s through this impeccable character development that the film turns the cops versus robbers dynamic on its head. Because both sides of the chase are fleshed out and likeable, the film guides the audience to see the bank as the villain. Foreclosure signs and loan advertisements pepper the rural Texas landscape, creating vivid imagery of the greed and dangers of this financial institution.
“Hell of High Water” creates the paradox of a mellow thriller. The majority of the film let me take in the calm, Texas atmosphere while enjoying relaxing conversations spoken in deep southern accents. But, the fast-paced heists and spectacular climax pushed me to the edge of my seat, allowing me to call “Hell or High Water” a heist movie worthy of an Oscar for best original screenplay.
Physical and digital copies of this film are now available for purchase, and streaming on Amazon video.

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