2016, Movies

Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie)

This is a gorgeously shot modern western with an incredible sense of place, good performances and just enough social comment. It is an excellent film which I have one minor reservation about.

Do you ever see a movie by a director you don’t know and are so impressed you want to watch everything else they’ve done. I call the ability to shoot things well “the Eye” and Mackenzie seems to have it. I looked at his filmography and maybe recognized one movie he’s made. So I will be adding these other movies to my list. Only the opening shot is show offy but it is one hell of a an opening shot. And the rest of the film is just gorgeous.

This is bank robber film that is really a modern western, set in northwest Texas. The sense of place is excellent, as is the sense that it isn’t what it used to be. Classic western themes are updated for the 21st century, with cattle barons and railroads replaced by banks and oil. Like any good western, there’s a strong undercurrent of social comment about what is happening in the area

The cast is uniformly excellent, with minor roles handled by great character actors and pretty good performances in the three main roles. Everyone looks dirty and tired, even Chris Pine, which adds to the sense of place and is what you would expect from a western.

In order to discuss my one reservation there are SPOILERS:

I’m not particularly put off by the escalation of violence at the climax. It’s a western, and that’s what happens. But, moreover, that’s the point of the movie: economic desperation leads to bad things and victimless crimes are not victimless.

Where I’m not so sure on how I feel is the denouement: I like the ambiguity but I like the standoff less. This feels like they are really tipping their hand at what genre this really is and I don’t feel like it was particularly realistic. Whereas the rest of the film feels extremely realistic – with perhaps the exception of the marksmanship in the climax – the “I’m coming for you, I’ll be waiting” feels more like it belongs in a genre film, which this is, but which this film was mostly better than.

Still very much worth seeing.


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