Hell or High Water (2016)

Food:

Nothing like a little diner breakfast to accompany this on-the-run Western.

Marcus Hamilton: Did they take cash
Jenny Ann: Two hundred dollars.
Marcus Hamilton: Them bills is evidence.
Jenny Ann: It’s evidence if they’re the bank robbers. So you go out there and you get a warrant and you come after the money that I will be using to put a roof over my daughter’s head.

My favorite diner near my house is Joe Junior’s in the East Village. Every time I go, I get the Avocado Jalepeno Omelette (a great, sizzling breakfast to pair with this film) and the staff is really easy going and friendly. I don’t know if I can afford the $200 tip, but I wish I could!

Western Film Series #18:

“Hell or High Water” (2016), directed by David Mackenzie, is what can be considered a neo-Western film. Embracing all the elements of a classic cinematic Western, this film takes place in the 21st century in the American southwest. Mackenzie replaces Monument Valley with dazzling casinos and the empty desert scenery with desert scenery saturated with sleazy pop-up car dealerships, gas stations and truck stops, modernizing the landscape, but maintaining the tone. The film follows two renegade brothers (much like “Lawless”) who are pulling off one reckless bank heist after another, flippantly engaging in bar fights and one night stands. Toby Howard (played by Chris Pine) is the older of the two brothers. He is also a father and a divorcee, with a quiet confidence and focused resolution – to help his sons avoid the kind of life he has ended up leading. The younger brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), is an ex-con with a manic and violent demeanor, often drawn to taking unnecessary risks and arrogantly flouting his dominance to strangers when given the chance. Though, tensions are rising with the passing of their mother, and their clashing personalities, the two make a decent pair of robbers on the run.

After completing a few successful holdups and coming into money from a family ranch, the two head to Las Vegas to ensure the money they have secured is properly laundered. Meanwhile, a pair of Texas Sheriffs with a buddy-cop complex, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), investigate the case, just a few steps behind the convicts. Bigoted Hamilton pokes fun at Parker for being half-Mexican/half-Indian, while Parker retorts with snipes about Hamilton’s age. However, due to their quick instincts, and the brothers’ growing carelessness, they find themselves close on the boys’ trail, which eventually leads to an old-fashion stand-off.

The film drawls in dialogue and pacing, but not in a way that lacks entertainment. The characters, marked by the compelling men who play them, manage to peak viewers interest throughout. We cannot help, but want to know where the journey takes them. Which doublet will come out on top?

Director of Photography Giles Nuttgens came to prominence with his work on this film, leading him to receive a BAFTA nomination for Best Cinematography. Each scene is beautifully composed, making the most of natural light and dusty landscapes, and giving the picture a dreamy element despite its bitter circumstances. The scenes encompassing flashy casino lighting and vibrant street signage feel reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (2011) or “Only God Forgives” (2013), where non-redeemable violence is masked with beautiful imagery.

“Hell or High Water” is a magnificent film, and example of what it looks like to revitalize the American Western, which, prior to this, had heavily relied on a specific time period to justify the genre. Pushing that block of time from the mid-1800s and early 1900’s roughly a hundred years forward, Mackenzie proves that the Western is not stagnant. The film received four nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Bridges, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It is an exceptional work that should not be missed.

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