Thursday, 19 January 2017

Hell Or High Water

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, and Dale Hickey

Director: David Mackenzie

102 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Studio Canal blu-ray region B

Rating: 5/10
Review by Steven Hampton

Redneck brothers Toby (Chris Pine, Star Trek) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are bank robbers with a solid plan concocted by Toby, the smart one, often jinxed by ex-convict Tanner, the wild one. Their crime spree is pursued from hick town to small town by aged Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), an old crusty lawman who is mercilessly crude with blatantly racial insults aimed mainly at his own forgivingly placid partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), a rare and yet wholly unsuccessful attempt to break away from the familiar tradition of the big screen’s Texas Ranger stereotype.

On the road, despite being only weeks away from his retirement, Hamilton is obviously intent upon one final showdown in this modern western. Hell Or High Water is clearly more of character study than a crime drama with limited action scenes. The first problem is that a well grizzled Bridges plays by far the strongest character here, and so his screen presence, of terse comments and a dogged stoicism, tends to overwhelm the rest of the cast’s very best efforts at emoting, even when all put together.

The second problem is that, like all new present-day ersatz westerns, this movie stands or falls in the intimidating shadow of Oscar-winner No Country For Old Men (2007). David Mackenzie’s comparatively more leisurely adventure cannot hope to match the darkness or savage intensity of the Coen brothers’ much bigger picture. And, perhaps thankfully, it doesn’t even try. Instead, there are reworked clich├ęs and numerous easily forgettable bluesy soundtrack choices to inform us of momentary freestyle moods in rather too many painfully slow scenes and, presumably, communicate to us something about the outlaw characters’ mental states. Oh, wait a minute... isn’t that what actors are supposed to be for?

Scottish director Mackenzie made the flawed but still fascinating sci-fi romance Perfect Sense (2011), starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. The lack of a strong female character in his attempt at a cowboy cop thriller adds a third failing to its list of faults. The women in this movie are mostly waitresses and bank clerks, and only one of them (TV actress Katy Mixon) makes much of an impression as a sympathetic character. In the end, and its nifty climactic shoot-out notwithstanding, HOHW is perhaps too laidback as a cowpoke flick for its own good, and it seems a bit too ready, if not eager, to swap its porch and pavement seats for rocking chairs. Hats - on or off? Legs - crossed or not? 

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