Reel Shorts | Hell or High Water

Two brothers on a tight deadline, rob a series of banks to raise money to stop a foreclosure on their family home as a sage, veteran Texas Ranger closes in on them in the incredibly engaging southwestern crime drama, Hell or High Water.

Over the past several months, candidates have presented two visions of America, a country moving forward into prosperity and the other, a vast wasteland full of crime, lack of opportunity and hopelessness. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the terrific drama, Sicario, drops his story into the latter.

Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are strategically zooming across south Texas, smartly targeting a group of banks to raise enough money to stave off a foreclosure of their family home.

The two are a contrast in style, Toby more laid back while his older brother shares plenty of similarities with Menace II Society’s O-Dog (Larenz Tate). A hot-head with thin skin, he is like a human volcano ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. While his character is brash, he is fueled by raw emotion, while Toby is more methodical and understated. As the two trek through their robbery scheme, unbeknownst to them they are being tracked by Texas Rangers, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

Much like his work in Sicario, Sheridan excels in showcasing society’s underbelly to great effect. Anchored by a soulful soundtrack and tremendous performances by Bridges, Foster and a career performance by Pine, director David McKenzie add his colorful flourishes to this story that is an effective crime drama and a peek at presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s vision for America.

Sheridan is very efficient at creating entertaining and personal dialogue specifically for pairs of actors. In Sicario, he displayed this to maximum effect in interactions between Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin or del Toro and Emily Blunt. He brings that same intensity and skill in scenes humanizing Pine and Foster, as well as Bridges and Birmingham, as each pair unwittingly tries to outlast the other.

The real breakout star here is Pine, whose somewhat stilted approach in many of his earlier, unsuccessful films, seems the perfect casting choice for his character. He perfectly balances the dynamic between himself and the more frenetic Foster, giving the audience not just someone to root for but who brings a certain “Texas swagger” to the role.

For the second time in consecutive years, Sheridan has crafted a screenplay that will have him in the conversation for one of the best scripts of the year. While they’re several months to go before the end of the year, Sheridan can be comforted with the fact that Hell or High Water stunningly effective and the cream of the summer crop.

Grade: A