Film Review: Hell Or High Water

by Aaron Johnstone

Rated MA15+. Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges. Directed by David Mackenzie.

Scrawled across an old crumbling wall reads ‘3 years in Iraq but no bailout for people like us’. The camera pans and in the distance we see a weathered and beaten up corvette cruising by as violins set the mood for this modern day western.

Hell or High Water focuses on the story of two brothers, Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard who find themselves robbing small town banks throughout regions of Texas. Though prone to rookie errors, they manage to successfully cover their tracks for the most part before disappearing. This inevitably attracts the attention of the local authorities however, and before long the local sheriff Hamilton (Bridges) and his sidekick Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are trying to piece together who the culprits are, and where they might have fled to.

Why? Well, Toby has no other choice, that is, if he wants to save his family’s ranch. As a divorced cowboy, and estranged father, his family (apart from his somewhat psycho brother) see him as a failure. The ranch becomes a way to potentially give something back to them. It comes with great risk though, and that’s a risk he is willing to take. It becomes clear that Toby has put a lot of thought into this, with some cunning plans coming together nicely. Whether it proves to be enough is the question we’re left wondering as the audience.

Sheriff Marcus Hamilton on the other hand is but a few weeks away from retirement, and dreading the day. A lonely widower with nothing left but his job, he finds himself loving every second of this potential last hurrah. His partner Alberto doesn’t find his identity in his work, but is nonetheless committed to the task and a great partner. They have an enjoyable relationship built on insults, of which Alberto is on the receiving end most of the time. As a Native American and Catholic he maintains a serious demeanour, but comes out of his shell a bit as the movie progresses, as the sheriffs get closer to their inevitable encounter with the tanner boys.

 Redemption and sacrifice are two of the themes in Hell or High Water that Christians would resonate with. Toby desperately wants to leave a sizeable inheritance for his family, even if they don’t have a great relationship. He hopes his sacrifice can mend the relationships and leave them with a better life. Obviously these ideas correlate strongly with the Christian gospel – one key difference being that he is not an innocent man, but a guilty one. He says to his eldest son (just before the final bank robbery) ‘don’t be like us’, whereas Christ as the perfect man, son of God, and radiance of God’s glory explicitly does want us to follow him (Mark 8:34).

 The Verdict: Hell or High Water has great pace, funny and enjoyable characters, excellent music, and some memorable scenes and lines. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges star as the protagonist and antagonist respectively and give the movie heart and direction. Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham do a fantastic job in their support roles. Overall the movie was a fun ride, intelligently made and leaves you rooting for both sides as they go about their business. 3.5/5

Hell Or High Water releases in Australian cinemas later this week. It is already screening in the USA.

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