24-30 March 2017 #851

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water justly joins the ranks of eight other excellent films that were nominated for “Best Picture” this year
Sophia Pande

It’s hard to come by a good western these days but Hell or High Water is one of them. It’s easy to see why it was one of the nine “Best Picture” nominees at this year’s Academy Awards (it didn’t win): it has the gravitas that the Academy tends to reward. Luckily, it also has an original mind behind it, that of Taylor Sheridan, the actor turned screenwriter who was also nominated for “Best Original Screenplay”.

While Sheridan may not have won an Oscar for his writing, he certainly deserves immense recognition for having written original source material that is insightful, surprising, brutal with reason, and a poignant, unusual hybrid of family drama, a gripping cops and cowboys chase, a heist film, and a brotherly romance without the usual nausea-inducing maudlin aspects.

The film tells the story of two brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who decide to rob the entity that did them in, systematically holding up branches of the Texas Midlands Bank across the state to get what they need to settle their mortgage and stop their ranch from being seized, after an unfair loan was foisted on their ill mother when she needed money most.

The brothers are polar opposites. Toby is a family man estranged from his sullen wife who takes care of his two boys and holds years of unpaid child support against him. Tanner is the felon, a crazy, happy-go-lucky sociopath whose only saving grace is that he loves his brother. On their trail are Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), an odd couple that give an insight into ingrained, casual southern racism, and the continuing plight of Native Americans (Alberto is a Comanche).

As the brothers rob bank after bank, Marcus Hamilton figures out their game (somewhat) making things more interesting. But just when you think you know what’s going to happen, things take unexpected turns, keeping everyone riveted in a beautifully shot film that shows so much more heart than the usual mainstream drama.

I cannot elaborate more on this fine film without giving things away, but I will say that Hell or High Water justly joins the ranks of eight other excellent films that were nominated for “Best Picture” this year. This is a promising turn given the dismal pickings from the past couple of years; deathly dull, derivative films have ruled in an industry where making money is the primary goal.

Hell or High Water was made for $12 million; it made $37.6 million at the box office to date and will certainly make more as it reaches DVD and other methods of home distribution. Not bad for a film that is original and full of interesting characters that actually seem like real people.