365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Hell or High Water (2016)

David Mackenzie's (Spread, Asylum) 2016 surprise is a movie that you'll like if you go in with very minimal expectations. If you think it's going to be your typical bank robbery thriller, you might be disappointed. If you think it's going to be filled with drama and suspense, you might likewise be disappointed. If you are interested in a simple character driven story with a little more than meets the initial eye, you might enjoy Hell or High Water. It's definitely a bit more quirky than you might think. If you are expecting a heavy bank caper drama, this isn't it. Mackenzie tries to take a different angle with this movie, adding some humor, recklessness, and interesting side characters to a story that is, primarily, still a bank heist film first. And while this movie has a 98% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, this doesn't mean that most reviewers are scoring it a 9.8/10. Rather it means that 49 out of 50 give this movie a positive review. While it is an interesting film (and the first one of 2016 that I have watched twice), it is by no means a Best Picture candidate. I know there was talk that it might sneak into the race. I have no idea how it got a nomination for Best Picture whereas a movie like Sully did not. While Hell or Hgh Water is a decent movie, I think a lot of people (including myself) expected it to be something far greater than it actually was.

The premise is pretty simple...though you don't really know the reason why the events of the movie are occurring util, really, the very end. We meet brothers Toby (Chris Pine - Unstoppable, Star Trek Into Darkness) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster - The Messenger, The Finest Hours) in the film's first scene as the are robbing a Texas Midland Bank in a small town in western Texas. The brothers are novices and it's as evident to us as it is to the female teller they are set to rob as she unlocks the bank doors. She even tells the nervous brothers, "You're new at this, aren't you?" before she informs them that there is no money in the cash drawers and the only person with keys to the safe is the bank manager who doesn't come in for another 30 minutes. And so the trio has to wait for him to arrive before Tanner pistol whips him out and they can take the keys to open the safe. The brothers are only interested in small, unmarked bills ($5, $10, and $20) and only want to take the bank's money, not those individuals who use the bank for their holdings. They pick Texas Midland banks in particular, for reasons which will learn about later. But, from the very get-go, we learn that the Howard brothers are, at best, amateurs and, at worst, sloppy.

But they are not hardened criminals. Well...at least Toby isn't. Tanner has spent some time in prison and we learn that he's kind of into the bank robbing thing just to help his brother. Toby's reasons, though (at first) are unknown. But then we learn that their mother recently died after being so sick that Tanner's room in the house that they grew up in was turned into a clinic room for her. Tanner was away and feels guilty that he didn't know how sick their mother was. We find out that Toby owes  $40,000 to the bank by the end of the week or the bank is going to foreclose and take the ranch. Toby has no idea of letting that happening. It is his intention to give the ranch to his two sons (he is currently estranged from his ex-wife). There's the motivation for the story. So why rob a number of banks rather than just get a big pay from one bank? Well, they don't want the FBI on their tail so they have to keep the amount of money they take under the FBI threshold to bet involved.

So instead of the FBI, the Howards have Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges - Crazy Heart, The Contender) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham - Twilight, The Lone Ranger) investigating the story. Partners for a long time, the pair are like an old married couple...poking fun at each other just to get under the other's skin. Marcus is set to retire and wants to go out putting away the criminals in a higher profile case such as this. Marcus and Alberto and are old and quirky, but they aren't lazy. While their careers seemingly haven't been the most thrilling in the world, they've been good at their jobs. But, perhaps, there hasn't been enough excitement, and this is a chance for them (especially Marcus) to hang his out on as he heads out the precinct's front doors for the last time. He becomes hellbent on finding those responsible for the robberies, but not in the way that you'd expect. Marcus doesn't get upset when the run down branches don't have functional security cameras. When his witnesses don't cooperate the way he'd like them to, he tries to reason with them instead of threatening them. Once he identifies their pattern, he parks himself with Alberto at the next branch he expects them to hit. Why they don't ask for backup, it's uncertain.

Hell or High Water is a smartly written movie from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan earned an Academy Award nomination, one of four nominations that this movie received. None will win, but I felt like this Best Original Screenplay nomination was the only one that deserved recognition. And it's not because Hell or High Water was a bad movie...it just wasn't an Oscar contending movie. What I enjoyed most was its simplicity, its tone, its scenery, and its characters. Aside from one scene late in the movie that showed a cell phone, you really couldn't tell if this movie was supposed to be set in the 70's, 80's, 90's, or today. The clothes the characters wear are old. The vehicles being driven look older. The towns are run down and there isn't use of modern technology. I actually think the cell phone scene was a mistake. It wasn't needed at all and makes the time in which this movie was set more concrete than ambiguous. I enjoyed the clever way that the brothers cleared the money. I enjoyed the car chase scenes. And I liked how it all came together at the end. And, while you do have to suspend your belief, it's okay. You don't have to totally suspend it. It's just that the pair seem to get away with a lot of things pretty easily when, with a little more investigation, the facts of the case would have been better stacked against them. The acting was good. It wasn't great. Foster's Tanner was a loose cannon and was the perfect compliment to the more centered and rational Toby. Bridges performance as idiosyncratic was good and added the right amount of humor to the film, but it wasn't one of the five best supporting actor performances of the year.

Of the nine movies nominated for Oscars, this was my least favorite. I would likely not have watched it twice or reviewed it had it not been nominated for Best Picture. With that said, it's a decent movie in a year that was full of decent, but not many great movies. I appreciate movies like this. Unfortunately, the hype killed this movie. The 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes set some unreasonable expectations for a lot of film viewers and earned an audience that might not have seen it if not for this surprise Best Picture nomination.

Plot 8.5/10
Character Development 8/10
Character Chemistry 8/10
Acting 8/10
Screenplay 10/10
Directing 8.5/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 8.5/10
Hook and Reel 8.5/10
Universal Relevance 9/10

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