‘Hell Or High Water’ (2016)

‘Hell or High Water’ might be the sleeper hit movie of 2016, in the truest sense of the phrase. By going off face value: the trailer and synopsis for the film, you would think it was just another tried Western/ buddy road movie /bank robbery chase movie. And you’d be right. It is all these things but it’s cleverness is in making these genres cliches feel new fresh and oh so achingly relevant in the face of Trump’s victory. The film is set in deep West Texas, I.e. Trump voter land, a place literally dying as its old white residents succumb to illness, drugs and despair. The land globalisation left behind. The film like ‘Fargo’ or ‘No Country For Old Men’ before it turns a conservative rural part of America into something exotic, gothic and confronting. The film is overtly political in this sense, as it sets the drama of two brothers robbing local banks, to pay off the mortgage on their recently deceased mother’s farm, in the foreground while in the background scenes of economic and social despair and ruin abound. You can’t take the film on face value, the details of foreclosure signs oil pumps and abandoned towns in the background, and the anti-bank greed subtext to a lot of the conversations, actions and consequences give a greater gravitas and meaning to the story. This is a film that gives ‘on the ground’ credence to the anti establish political revolution of Trump and Sanders. The cast is uniformly excellent as the dual buddy storylines of two brother robbers and a Native American and racist retiring cop, played with such easy power by Jeff Bridges, converge inevitably towards a final violent confrontation. The ending isn’t surprising or shocking as the looming arm of justice finally catches up with the brother robbers and yet I found myself crying at the flawed, tragic relationship of the brothers as they meet their different ends. A morality tale for our time. The film is never black and white, but resolutely grey. There are no Heros and no total villains. If there is a villain it is the quite off screen violence of the shadowy banks that is the most dark. The overall story and conclusion isn’t anything particularly new, but what is new and exciting is the pregnant dialogue, the subversive performances and the profound humanist message amidst a tired old genre. Jeff Bridges is destined for his 7th Oscar nomination for this film and he deserves it, grippingly depicting a full spectrum of pain and emotions in a limited amount of screen time.

9/10.  ***1/2