Hell Or High Water Review

Hell Or High Water

In the olden days, the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

It was a simpler time for simpler people.

And though the many shades of grey we live in now has its cons, such as EL James, the evolution in cinematic story-telling ain’t one of them.

Take director David Mackenzie’s excellent new film Hell Or High Water.

We begin in a downtrodden part of southern america, watching two men drive around a one horse town in a beat up old car.

The dirt roads and poverty inspired graffiti tells us the american dream has turned into a nightmare here, as do the balaclavas our two protagonists have now donned.

Turns out these good ol’ boys are a pair of bank robbing brothers, one pretty smart and the other pretty wild.

The smart one, Toby, has a method to his madness, and meticulously plans their robberies so no-one gets hurt except the banks they’re robbing.

But Tanner, the raging yin to Toby’s sober yang, has other ideas.

Soon enough, their escalating crimes pique the interest of a wily old ranger not long from retirement – and not much looking forward to it either.

He and his multi-ethnic partner in crime fighting, who also happens to be the butt of most of his offensive jokes, pit themselves against Toby and Tanner in a battle of wits.

Much like our brothers in crime, there’s a smart one on the right side of the law too, but which of these pairs will be quickest on the draw?

Hell Or High Water is that rare cinematic beast that actually adds up to considerably more than the sum of its parts.

I’d put this down to the director Mackenzie, who has an eclectic body of work behind him including the excellent Starred Up, and new screen writer Taylor Sheridan, who wrote Sicario last year.

These days, any writer worth their salt seems to be working in tv, as there’s more scope to tell a story that doesn’t have to be wrapped up in a couple of hours.

Which is why tv is now better than cinema, and has in turn lead to hollywood focusing on big budget event films that increasingly rely on special effects, at the cost of interesting or even coherent scripts.

So it’s great to see a film like Hell Or High Water, which feels like a throwback from a better movie making era.

At heart, Hell Or High Water is a modern take on the classic western genre, with a clever plot, brilliant dialogue and performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges that actually make you care about their characters on the right and wrong side of the law.

These qualities should be the bare minimum for a film to be made, and it’s a sad state of affairs that part of what makes Hell Or High Water so enjoyable is that such filmmaking ingredients are now so rare in mainstream cinema.

But that won’t stop you from enjoying one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

And just in case anyone still needs this spelt out for them, the bad guys wear suits these days.

Jonathan Campbell

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September 2016
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