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.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
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/>.
Hell or High Water. CBS Films. Web. <http://www.hellorhighwater.movie/#home>.