Just been watching…(73)

Hell or High Water (2016)

***No plot spoilers***

I finally got around to watching this DVD, another of my birthday presents from last March.

West Texas, in the 21st century. Much like Texas in the 1930s, with ordinary people caught up in another Depression Era. Sleepy, dusty towns. Shops closed up, streets almost deserted. People consumed by debts they cannot pay, and banks calling in loans on property. If it wasn’t for the clothes and the cars, I could almost have been watching a version of ‘Bonnie and Clyde’.

One of the Howard brothers has inherited the failing family ranch. Oil has been found on the property, and the local bank is keen to foreclose on the mortgage so they can get their hands on the oil wealth. The brothers need $40,000 to pay off the bank, but they don’t have it. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is the solid, reliable son, left at home to care for his sick mother when his brother Tanner (Ben Foster) was in jail. He got the place in her will, but has no cash to make a go of it. He is divorced, and can see little future for his two growing sons. So he comes up with a plan.

The brothers will embark on a series of bank robberies, hitting small branches of the same bank in quick succession, and taking small amounts of money that will not attract the attention of the FBI. But Tanner is not so solid and reliable. He is a career criminal, impulsive, and unpredictable. Nevertheless, he wants to help his younger brother, and his bravado is the key to their initial success in the bank raids.

Those raids attract the attention of the Texas Rangers, and two of them take the case. One is the dependable Marcus Hamilton, (Jeff Bridges) close to the end of his career, with one month to go before compulsory retirement. His partner is Alberto, (Gil Birmingham) a family man, half Mexican, half Comanche. Marcus uses his experience to plot the course of the robberies, and his unorthodox techniques see him closing in on the brothers, as their spree continues. The four men seem destined to meet in the eventual climax. With no spoilers, that’s it for the story.

This is unmistakably a modern Western. Despite the cars and the motels, it feels like a cowboy film throughout, and references many along the way. The robbers with a cause, the dogged lawman on their trail, and the assorted characters met by them on the way. The film excels on the small details. Waitresses in shabby restaurants are memorable. Bank staff who call the robbers ‘Sir’, because Texans are polite. Gun-toting civilians, in a state where it seems as if every man carries a firearm. Bleak farmsteads, closed-down businesses, and roads that apparently lead to nowhere. The allegory comes thick and fast, but the film is no worse for that.

The robberies and set-piece shoot-outs are just right. Not too showy, all too believable in execution. Some locals are keen to help the lawmen, whilst others regard the fleeing robbers as Robin Hood characters, with the banks deserving to be raided. Bridges is 68 years old now, but looks and acts older than those years. His voice is so gruff, at times he is unintelligible, sounding as if he is speaking under water. But he is ideal for the part. A man worn out from a long career, yet reluctant to give up on it just yet. On paper, he is the star of the film, but for me Ben Foster took the laurels. His role of the wayward brother with a soft centre was pitched to perfection, and it felt like watching a real person on screen, not someone acting.

Good locations, a tight script, and amazingly good casting in the small character parts lifted this film high above many similar offerings. Despite being released in 2016, this felt like a film from the 1970s, and I mean that as a compliment. I liked it a lot.

37 thoughts on “Just been watching…(73)

    1. I adored the waitresses. The young one who wouldn’t give back the tip, and the old crone who said ‘what don’t you want?’. Lovely touches. πŸ™‚ (Oh, and the gun-toting old timer in the first bank!)
      Delighted to see you back, Cindy.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. August was a swirl of duties and new systems, schedules, and curriculum to implement. I simply had to step away–my novel! I have a few edits and it’s off to the editor on the 24th of September. Then I will take a break from that and go back to blogging more actively. I did a word count on the manuscript it was approximately 50,000 words. All that work for a novella. The second installment in a series representing the 20th century. I ought to wait and publish them at once, but I’ll be 90 by the time that happens. πŸ˜‰ Still, I will be SO GLAD to get it this one over with. πŸ˜‰
        Sorry I missed your ongoing short story. I hope to read it when I have more time.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Ben Foster is just such a terrific actor. He can take on any kind of role, and looks almost totally different in each film he stars in 😊 This film is still on my to watch list and has been for quite a while. Bridges is always great to watch too. So hope to get around to it at least somewhere this year. Thank you for yet another terrific review! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michael. I think you will like this film.
      Ollie has been to the dog groomer this week, and had a bath. His fur now looks sleek, and he doesn’t smell so bad. It is also 12 C less warm than before, so he is happier in cooler weather. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well I didn’t know about this and it’s not my kinda thing, but I have a soft spot for Mr.Bridges and a hot spot for Chris Pine, and with Ben Foster in it too who could act the phone book, it’s going straight to the top of my shopping list!

    Liked by 1 person

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.