Westerns are a bit of strange genre. You have to wade through a fair old pile of them to get to a gem. When done well, the odd Western has even crept into my Top 10 films of all time. Tombstone, for example, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer is a powerhouse of a movie that builds tension into an explosive powder keg of a crescendo that has rarely been equaled in any genre, let alone the Western. Unfortunately, some cowboy flicks tend to crawl into life, such as The Hateful 8 which I still haven’t managed to get to the end of. Sorry Quentin, I’m sure it’s marvelous unfortunately I’m getting older which means my attention span seems to be returning to toddler status. This week I saw Hell or High Water, a Western set in the new West rather than the old and it’s a cracker.
Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine (Star Trek, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Ben Foster (X Men: The Last Stand) as two cowpoke brothers who are robbing banks to save their ranch from foreclosure. On their trail are retiring Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges (Tron, The Big Lebowski etc, etc) and his partner Gil Birmingham (Rango, The Lone Ranger).
Simple story? Yes I would agree but this flick has so much more. Unravel one bit of the story and it presents a whole new layer like a beautiful Russian doll. Each new layer of story is more intricate, detailed and glorious than the previous one.
Chris Pine has always been presented as more of a leading man than an actor but if there was ever any doubt about his acting prowess, Hell of High Water is the place to see him turn in a performance of a lifetime. He broods, weeps, laughs and acts his scuffed cowboy boots off. Foster, last seen by this reviewer, in the pitiful X Men outing, The Last Stand, is magnificent as unhinged brother, Tanner. Watching his performance made the prickles on the back of my neck stand up each time he glared into the eyes of a bank teller.
Bridges has had an incredible career and he seems to be a better actor now than he ever was and he wasn’t bad to begin with. He plays the retiring Ranger with a world weariness who has just the tiniest fading twinkle in his eye that’s enough for the audience to see and no more. Birmingham plays Bridges’ foil and like most double acts, when it’s played well both actors reap the rewards .
Pine, Foster, Bridges and Birmingham, when on screen, are mesmerising to watch. Considering Hell of High Water has one or more of them on screen through its entire 1 hour 42 second running time makes the flick hum with perfection.
Giles Nuttgens cinematography has the dry perspiration of the Mid-West dripping through the screen which complements the detailed direction of David Mackenzie perfectly. Mackenzie’s direction is faultless, making sure there is something or someone interesting on the screen in each and every scene. He gives the characters realism and warmth which makes the story relatable and accessible for the audience.
The score is sublime and is one of the most original and fitting soundtracks of 2016. This is down to the genius and artistry of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The Hell of High Water soundtrack is made up of greasy, lower than a rattlesnakes belly tracks such as Dollar Bill Blues by Townes Van Zandt and Dust of the Chase by Ray Wylie Hubbard which are used so well that it they feel like another cast member that you can’t do without.
Hell or High Water is a Western but not a traditional one. It has a lot to say but never preaches, it has a lot to do but doesn’t feel rushed and it has a serious message but never falls short of laughs. This film has everything you could want from a movie, regardless of the genre. It’s never going to hit the box office massive but this is the best movie of 2016 so far and worth every second of your attention.