What it lacks in thematic subtlety, this savage and savagely hilarious, southern fried neo-western more than compensates with its incredible direction, tack-sharp script and collection of awards-worthy performances. Hell or High Water is, right now, the best movie of 2016.
When their family ranch threatens to go into foreclosure, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) take drastic measures, robbing various branches of the very bank looking to make off with their home in a form of perverse poetic justice. As the pair hit more banks and take increasing risks due to ex-con Tanner’s volatile demeanour, they catch the attention of two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who are dispatched to chase them down.
Following a summer of disappointments, what a pleasant surprise this movie is, arriving with a fairly muted level of hype, telling its densely-layered story within an extremely reasonable 102 minutes, and serving up more thrilling action and laughter than almost any movie from the past few months’ tentpole assembly line.
This shouldn’t be that surprising, though, given the absurd talents of director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), not to mention Pine, Foster and Bridges, all three of whom are magnificent in wildly different roles (with the former two touting almost preternatural chemistry). Bridges, as the gruff, slightly quirky Texan cop, is probably a front-runner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar right now, the Coen-esque humour wringing out another memorably eccentric turn while also giving him brief moment for dramatic pause during more visceral moments.
Foster plays crazy as well as anyone, and continues to prove himself one of Hollywood’s most under-valued talents, all while wiping away those soul-crushing memories of his risible performance in this summer’s Warcraft. Pine meanwhile turns in easily his best performance to date as a dedicated family man trying to provide for his children while preventing his brother from hurling himself into the abyss.
This is all without mentioning some equally awards-worthy lensing from Giles Nuttgens, who may be about to enjoy one of the most meteoric rises to prominence in cinema history, as he goes from DP of the infamously-dutched Battlefield Earth to potential Oscar nominee.
The superlative work from every angle adds up to a tripwire tense, devilishly entertaining thriller with plenty on its mind and an emotionally developed core to boot. It has no intentions to whisper about the recession and bailout culture, but the sledgehammer-subtlety of its nose-thumbing is justified by the whole.
Watch out, Oscar hopefuls, because here’s one contender that stands confidently atop the pack.
Hell or High Water is in cinemas now