Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hell or High Water [A Fat Jesus Film Review]

Ahhh 2017. Donald Trump is going to be president. MTV is racist. Buzzfeed is still prevalent for some reason. 2016 was so bad nothing could possibly go wrong in 2017. So, for my first review of the year, before things inevitably hit us like a meteor hitting the planet, I had to do it on "Hell or High Water." One of the best western crime dramas in recent memory, Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, anchor a drama filled heist-spree that never goes over the top. Jeff Bridges proves he still has fantastic acting chops, while the relationship between Chris Pine and Ben Foster is as authentic as you'll see in a film from last year.

"Hell or High Water" follows the story of two brothers living in West Texas, Toby and Tanner Howard (Pine and Foster). Toby is divorced, while his brother is an ex-con. Tanner, being a wild-card, often frustrates Toby. They knock off a few Texas Midlands banks one morning. This draws the attention of Texas Rangers and Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are put on the case. Marcus is closing in on retirement and teases his partner about being half Mexican and Indian. Two brothers and two Texas rangers then engage in a game of cat and mouse, with nothing but the rural lands of Texas as their backdrop.

The grit, realness, and authenticity are what makes this film work. There's action, but it's not overly done. There gun fights and car chases, but they're not over-done. The story doesn't bring much new to the table, older lawman figuring out the plan of two younger criminals. What it does do, is make the characters relatable and grounded in reality. It gives us great cinematography of West Texas small towns landscapes. Just about every aspect of "Hell or High Water," aside from the cliched plot outline, is refreshing and adrenaline inducing.

This starts with the performances from the leads. Ben Foster, as Tanner Howard, is a firecracker. He's the most high-energy person in the film and brings the most intensity to every scene he's in.  The brotherly exchanges with Pine, especially the scene in the casino and the second bank robbery, were awesome. You watch him slowly devolve throughout the film up until his climax. Chris Pine, as Toby Howard, is the smarter and more calm and collected of the two brothers. He's the brains behind the bank robberies working, for the most part. He's also the more established character. We find out about his family life, divorce and plans for after this spree. The scene mid-way through the film, where he wails on the guy at the gas station, as well as the climax of the film, are contrasting scenes that show the range of his character. Finally, Jeff Bridges, as Marcus Hamilton, is the anchor of the film and proves that his acting ability is still there. Hamilton reminded me of Tommy Lee Jones' character in "No Country For Old Men." The cliched retirement angle is prevalent, but the humor, knowledge and rapport with his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham) is perfect. A slightly racist, wise-cracking, smarter than the bad guys and completely bad-ass Texas Ranger, going out on his own terms was a pleasure to watch. The whole last act and climax of the film saw Bridges at his finest.

The overall acting is what sets the tone, lets us fully enjoy the phenomenal cinematography and the well done action. The small town shots, the small town people and the sweeping shots of landscapes drove the point home that this area of West Texas was not as well off as other places in the US. This is not a bright film, a lot of it takes place during the day, but the film gives off a dusty badlands color vibe. The car chases weren't full of unnecessary explosions. The bank robberies, with the exception of the last one they do, are smaller and intimate. There are gun fights, but they're sensible for the most part. There's some gore, but it's used for shock value and finality. Everything that supports the acting--the story, action, colors, tones--is crisp and keeps you invested until the credits roll.

"Hell or High Water" is probably the best crime film of 2016. "The Nice Guys" is the opposite of this in almost every single way, not that that's a bad thing either. It's about going to extreme heights, with the characters, acting, dialogue and plot (which is wholly original), combining to make a fun film. "Hell or High Water" goes for the more realistic approach. The acting is what resonated with me much more than in "The Nice Guys." It's a western that's light on the western, but taps into its essence when it's needed. Pine, Foster and Bridges give astounding performances in a film that people should give a watch.