Film review: Hell or High Water

by James Robins / 07 November, 2016

Hell or High Water.

An honest look at the wreckage and destitution of modern Texas’ parched dustbowls.

“Fast cash when you need it,” reads the billboard taunting an empty West Texas highway. Two brothers, quiet divorcee Toby (Chris Pine) and sea­soned con Tanner (Ben Foster), roll past it in a behemoth pickup. They’ve just got their “fast cash” by ­robbing a bank, which is certainly one way of doing it. Tanner howls gleefully, the thrill of pistol-­whipping a bolo-tied clerk ­surging through him. Toby looks out the ­windscreen languidly. He’ll get no ­pleasure from this sorry business. There are still two more branches to hit.

They roll on, past the empty parking lots and loan shark hoardings. Past the oil derricks pumping outside a closed-down gas station. This is modern Texas, cowboy, where those left behind have Harley-Davidson handlebars for facial hair, an enormous handgun tucked cosily into the waistband of their old Levis, and not much else. You wouldn’t think so, but justice still functions in this parched dustbowl. It comes, slow-moving, in the form of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an old-fashioned lawman in a Stetson and spurred boots, whose voice sounds like gurgling gravel drowned in acid.

It takes an outsider to look honestly at this proud part of America, to see the wreckage and destitution. ­Scottish director David Mackenzie (Starred Up, ­Perfect Sense) does so by skilfully and­ ­stylishly updating the Bonnie and Clyde motif, pairing it with the morality tale of 99 Homes – two films that have economic depressions as their context. He marshals extraordinary performances from the leading trio, turning villains into ­fleetingly loveable rogues.

The result is an elegiac, unhurried, strangely funny and ultimately ­masterful film – more Townes Van Zandt than Randy Travis, if you know your country music. If this is the direction western cinema is heading, bring on the rodeo. ••••½

IN CINEMAS NOW

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.

Latest

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period drama Colette
102397 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period dr…

by James Robins

The story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a heroine of French literature, focuses on her early struggles.

Read more
Is barbecued meat bad for your health?
102255 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is barbecued meat bad for your health?

by Jennifer Bowden

Sizzling meat on the barbecue is the sound and smell of summer, but proceed with caution.

Read more
March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more