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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Review - Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham
Directed by David Mackenzie

As Hell or High Water opens, brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are robbing the small-town Texas-Midland Bank.  Sure, Tanner's been in jail before, but in general the duo seem like nice enough guys...they're just desperate to save their deceased mother's estate which was just recently discovered to be sitting atop a vast supply of oil.  However, a disastrous reverse mortgage set up by Texas-Midland Bank has the agency wanting to seize the house from the Howard family leading the brothers to formulate the plan to rob the bank's branches and then give the money back to the bank in order to save their property.  The Howards continue on their mission while being pursued by a duo of Texas Rangers -- the retiring Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and the up-and-comer Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) -- eager to stop the culprits before they steal any more dough and perhaps do something more deadly.

Much like is typical in the Western genre -- at least for this reviewer -- Hell or High Water is a very slow starter.  Director David Mackenzie's film is lullingly dull in its first forty-five minutes when it comes to plot.  Sure, the rapport between the Howard brothers and the two Texas Rangers provides heart and humor, but the film was lacking forward momentum and drive.  (Once again, this seems typical of most westerns for me, so your mileage may vary.)  The film's second half picks up the pace, racing forward as the two aforementioned duos meet each other following an intense bank robbery, ending the film on a much better note than it started.

While dull at times, the main quartet of four actors solidly delivers.  Ben Foster is charismatic as Tanner whose unhinged personality ultimately overtakes his more subdued brother Toby who is subtly played by Chris Pine with just the right amount of emotional pain to make me truly believe his character's descent into crime.  The two feel incredibly natural together, coming off as believable brothers despite their distinct personalities.  Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham play splendidly off of one another in large part thanks to the wonderfully witty and natural dialog conjured up by screenwriter Taylor Sheridan who has a keen ear for the spoken word (even if the film's plot leaves a little to be desired).

The acting certainly elevates the whole film and is undoubtedly the reason for giving this one a go.  Mackenzie as a director creates an incredibly taut and exciting final act, but unfortunately, the build up to the final moments is a bit slow.  This is a capable film that is perhaps more highly praised this awards season than it should be, but I imagine that's in large part due to the fact that the film ends much more enjoyably than how it begins.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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