10 Leathery Waitresses out of 10
I went into “Hell or High Water” really without any expectations. I’d seen advertising and heard good things, but I took them with a grain of salt largely because Chris Pine was starring as one of the lead roles and I’d simply never liked him in any film. I left the theater shocked by the quality of “Hell or High Water” – the entire film is casted, shot, and paced to near perfection. This is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and I was completely blindsided by it.
The film opens with two brothers portrayed by Pine and Ben Foster Robbing a string of local banks, an act that sets an aging Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges and his partner played by Gil Birmingham, on a collision course. The set ups really quite simple and should be familiar to anyone who has seen a heist movie, but that’s not what makes this film special. To begin with, the film immerses us in the crumbling small towns of rural Texas with a frankness that I’ve never seen. All around the brothers were constantly being shown the bones of a failing lifestyle, and that only becomes more poignant each time the director takes a quiet moment to show us the beauty in that dying land. Its a gorgeous film and its cinematography is constantly enhancing scenes.
Besides making “Hell or High Water” look good, the excellent camera work really helps produce tension throughout the film. Thrillers really rely on how much tension they can produce in a scene, and this film delivers. There’s a moment in the film where I was sitting on the edge of my seat and I realized I’d seen this particular situation in dozens of films, often times on larger scales, and none has ever affected me as much. And that’s largely because of incredible acting and excellent cinematography, but it’s also a good look at this film in a nutshell. It’s never big and it’s rarely loud, but it sucks you in and engages you to the point that its scale becomes irrelevant.
Another part of why the tense moments of the film work so well is the consistently stellar performances of its cast. Pine’s performance by itself was enough to move him from being a mediocre actor to an often misused one in my book. The subtlety and depth he demonstrates is surprising and the chemistry he has with Foster is ultimately what anchors the film. On the topic of Foster, I’m just going to say that in a film filled with superb performances his is easily my favorite, and that I’d wager on him winning best supporting actor. Bridges on the other hand, is playing the gruff, funny, old guy that he’s played in a dozen other films. Like all type casts. it’s a matter of him fitting in the film, and Bridges fits incredibly well in “Hell or High Water” – constantly bringing humor and levity to scenes. In fact, the whole film is studded with humor, which surprised me, but it consistently worked in each scene. It never felt forced, and it always found its way into a conversation naturally. Which, in a film this dark, is just another testament to the quality of its performances.