Hollywood Westerns are not gone, they just underwent a new tone and identity to fit with the times. We do not see any more of those shoot-em-ups against the “Injuns,” but instead a blurred line between sheriff and outlaw. Yet most noticeable of all, it takes place in the here and now, rather than the turn of America’s economic structure.
Hell or High Water, written by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan, shows some of those gritty details that breathe life back into the shallow, feel-good classical genre. Here, we see what Texans under the law truly act like: they use a bulldozer to bury their car under dirt to hide any evidence, and they throw their chips in poker to increase their luck, all with the right rationalizations explained about their backstories to help you understand their turmoil. The two black-masked thieves we focus on here, played by the greatly underrated Chris Pine (Into the Woods, Star Trek) and Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger), make a living out of hopping from bank-to-bank as the only means to financially secure themselves. You normally wouldn’t want to care for a couple of crooks like them, but once you learn their background, you’ll understand.
Sheridan’s plot is not a terribly original concept for a modern-day cowboy movie, virtually copying the same tone and concept as the brilliant No Country for Old Men. This Western only sets itself apart from others by its lack of international relationships.
Even so, the hearts of all the men living here will haunt you. Each of them abuses their second amendment rights, even the filthy-rich passerby at the gas station carries firearms at all times. The town by no means chose to side with these crooks, especially not the near-retiring sheriff, played with a compellingly rich voice by Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart). Despite his wishes, he sets off a cat-and-mouse chase to restore integrity to these disturbers of the peace. Think of it like a Bonnie & Clyde type of thriller, except without the fun, gore, and romance. Or better yet, a Thelma & Louise type of criminal’s sympathy story, except without any strong female characters.
Yeah, hate to break it to you: Westerns today still don’t contain enough girl power like we’d expect from them by now. The female characters are either dead mothers we never meet, moral support for the main characters, or bankers who get harassed by the two crooks. If these otherwise talented actresses were made somehow more active, then greater dimension would have been added to make the script strike closer to home.
Although the widely unnoticed director David Mackenzie deserves recognition for his compelling creation of Texas’ true culture. In his view of the dead south, automobiles display the ultimate sign of one’s wealth, and oil mines can be found in an average man’s backyard. Although everything looks like the everyday mundane life for these inhabitants, several signs still connect Mackenzie’s imagined world with the works of John Ford. A field fire seen in the distance from behind a herd of frightened cattle heightens the highly-saturated look of the picture, and the dusty texture of the art direction reflects the complexion of the men unqualified to protect the people. You even get a new take on the classic showdown between sheriff and outlaw- with a new psychological twist.
Hell or High Water will last as one of those pictures made by men from the old days for men from the old days. Not everyone will come out from the experience satisfied, but for the thinking-type of viewer, Mackenzie’s new take on a familiar concept will knock ‘em out dead.
Hell or High Water shines a much-needed positive light on police officers. While the main story revolves around the two bank robbers, the secondary plot focuses on the near-retiring town sheriff. In most traditional stories, the cop knows he reached success after catching the criminal. But in this movie, success comes through other means that more accurately define a cop’s true purpose.
All sorts of articles across the web explain how cops should modify their approach when interacting with somebody who has a mental disorder, such as autism. Clearly, there can be obstacles between a police officer and those with disabilities. For example, the firm, direct tone of the officer can be threatening to somebody on the spectrum, and make listening more difficult due to sensory overload. Numerous news stories talk about this issue, including one by the New York Post. But one thing I really want to stress is:
Once you’ve read one news article about an abusive police officer, you’ve read one news article about an abusive police officer.
I never had any bad experiences with police officers. I even remember back in middle school and high school, there was always a specific officer who oversaw safety between each of the schools I went to, and he was every bit as kindly as Mr. Rogers. I remember times he sat down and casually talked to me while I was sitting alone at the lunch table in junior high, as he would also do with the other students. He was always offering out free breath mints to anyone he met, and even let the students dress him up as Hannah Montana and lip synced at the spirit day assembly. One time when I had to visit the principal’s office for reasons I will not say here, he was told to come in. The whole time he was there, I felt relaxed and safe, because I knew he genuinely cared for my safety. He was so fiercely respected by both the middle school and high school I went to, as well as my entire community. Then when he passed away in January 2012, my whole Facebook feed was filled with goodbye messages and changed profile pictures to show support. So if I ever hear about a racist or immoral cop, I remember back to that grandfatherly figure who helped me feel safe in my years at school.
But the bad news is, stories of those kind, hospitable police officers rarely get a mention in the media. Most of the time, you only see the irrational racists floating about. If a cop arrests somebody with autism just because he can’t understand instructions, it explodes across all of Twitter. If a cop helps a lost five-year-old find his mommy and daddy, nobody acknowledges him.
We talk all the time about how we should avoid prejudice and stereotypes. Well guess what? Not all police officers abuse their authority. While we can still point out the minority of cops who abuse their power, a greater number of them parallel Jeff Bridges’ character in Hell or High Water, where they care about the safety of their county. Although greater knowledge about autism can always be learnt by anyone with a police badge, not all cops dismiss the idea of autism. Every cop has the potential, and the duty, to understand the needs of every person he or she is given to protect, specific to their unique characteristics.
- If you are a current police officer, or plan to be one someday, do as much research as you can about developmental disorders to fulfill what you don’t know. My book is a great place to start, along with this document that outlines specific needs of anyone on the spectrum.
- Know that no two people with autism are the same. While I am certainly sensitive to loud speaking tones, I also have a reputation of obeying orders when given. But I know of others on the spectrum with no sensitivity to loud sounds, but may not understand given orders. Accommodate your approach based on the individual.
- Don’t spread any heated news stories about police officers. While they might be abusing power in individual cases, don’t encourage a blindly assumed stereotype.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Chokshi, Niraj. North Miami Police Officers Shoot Man Aiding Patient With Autism. NY Times, 21 Jul 2016. Web. <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/22/us/north-miami-police-officers-shoot-man-aiding-patient-with-autism.html?_r=0>.
Di Palma, Lorenzo. “Hell or High Water”: a novembre su Netflix. Digital image. Sorrisi e Canzoni TV. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore Spa, 25 Oct 2016. Web. <http://www.sorrisi.com/cinema/film-in-uscita/hell-high-water-novembre-su-netflix/>.
Farber, Bernard J. Police Interaction With Autistic Persons: The Need For Training. PDF. AELE Monthly Law Journal. AELE Law Enforcement Legal Center, 2009. <http://www.aele.org/law/2009all07/2009-07MLJ101.pdf>.
Hell or High Water. CBS Films. Web. <http://www.hellorhighwater.movie/#home>.