British director David Mackenzie has made an uncompromisingly America, and yet universal piece of cinema.
Two brothers start pulling off a series of small-time bank robberies, targeting only the Texas Midland Bank in small, dying towns, across west Texas. Two old sheriffs, one only weeks away from retirement, are puzzled at the relatively small amounts being stolen and the fairly amateurish manner of the robberies.
Brothers Tanner and Toby are played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine respectively. Tanner is a hardened crim, whilst Toby is a loser, trying to ensure his sons don’t take after him. Jeff Bridges plays Sheriff Hamilton, the reluctant retiree, whilst the always watchable Gil Birmingham takes the role of his off-sider, Alberto Parker.
Taylor Sheridan’s water-tight screenplay is all about character. In that framework, west Texas itself becomes another character: shut-down shops; empty streets; cafes which only serve one dish; depressed and under-employed residents; farms which barely make a living. It is this socio-economic miasma that gives rise to the robberies.
This is not a slick heist film. It is firmly grounded in reality. Although somewhat depressing, it is also filled with warmth and humour. Sheridan’s dialogue is sharply observed and elegant, giving the actors a chance to relax into smaller, more subtle characters than many of them are used to playing. There is not a dull moment, nor a missed beat.
The only sour point is that there are very few female characters, and most of them are waitresses, hookers or ex-wives. I am sure west Texas is no feminist bastion, but I still think this glaring gender imbalance should have been addressed in the scripting.
This is the best film I have seen all year: I doubt I will see better.
Hell or High Water opens October 27th at Palace Nova Cinema
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 9
Hell or High Water opens in cinemas from 27 October 2016.