Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water ★★★★½

Hell or High Water is a film so knowing and evocative; with a story so entrenched in the current happenings and history of a very specific part of America; that I would have sworn it was directed by an American. But Brit David Mackenzie, working from a Taylor Sheridan script, brings a knowing outside eye to deliver one of the year's best films.

This isn't a flashy film. It can't be described as blockbuster action or obscure indie. There is no great focus on gun-play or violence, though it certainly occurs; nor are New Mexico's beautiful landscapes shoved down our throats. It is highly economical- it is about two men doing extreme things for a good reason and the lawmen after them- not a shot or whisper is wasted in order to tell this tale. In fact, there were times where I felt a little artistic pretentiousness could have been employed on some of the "prettier" shots.

Along with the strong script and beautiful photography (Giles Nuttgens capturing the beautiful scenery as well as some very nifty camera movement during the action sequences), Mackenzie is also assisted by a terrific cast. Chris Pine gets a rare chance to stretch his dramatic muscles and does a solid job. Gil Birmingham also does strong work as the Mexican/Native American deputy, constantly on the receiving end of his colleague's jibes. Supporting and cameo roles as locals along the way provide the film with both authenticity and a little bit of humour.

But the clear standouts here are Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. We've seen Ben Foster do similar work, as the morally corrupt guy you can't help but enjoy watching, but this may be his best yet. He is the "off" brother, the one who couldn't escape his rough childhood and can't help getting in trouble. But he clearly loves his brother, and Foster has such charisma and ability that despite his constant failings he never becomes someone whose downfall you want to see.

Bridges also shows he has plenty left in the tank. As a Texan Ranger about to retire and wanting one last bit of action, he seems an obvious casting choice. But the role provides him with some excellent material and he too delivers some of the best work of his distinguished career. It wouldn't be a surprise to see his name pop up yet again during awards season.

This is an adult film, exploring the morals and reactions of people under pressure and the collapse of a region so long living a certain way. It is populated by very human characters and behaviour and delivered with an accomplished and caring touch. Everything down to the finest detail is considered and the result is extremely impressive.

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