The superhero genre is giving us our money’s worth folks. This year alone, there have been 7 major studio movie releases alone. That’s more than half the year spent on superheroes folks. And there are even more planned for next year.
There is this film director who is pretty much sick of it all. He can’t stand the superhero genre, and I can only now see his point. He made my favourite movie of the year and it features real people. No capes.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Dale Dickey, Gil Birmingham
Director: David Mackenzie
released on blu-ray November 22, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, Audience Score 89%
The Guardian: *****/*****
David Mackenzie is a Scottish film director and co-founder of the Glasgow-based production company Sigma Films. Known for his ability to resist genre and typecasting, his set of films don’t really fit into one format or another. But his passion for a thorough and nuanced story sure comes through every time. His list of directed films to date includes – The Last Great Wilderness, Young Adam, Asylum, Hallam Foe, Spread, Perfect Sense, You Instead, Starred Up and now Hell or High Water.
Mackenzie has made an excellent name for himself in the indie circuit, but Hell or High Water is the watermark which should garner him serious attention in 2017 and beyond.
Let’s talk about the plot for a few minutes though.
As something of a mix between crime thriller and neo-western with the bad guy really and truly played by the bank, the Howard brothers are trying to save their family ranch from foreclosure. This was the result of their mother’s recent death and a reverse mortgage the bank instated to pay her personal debts – if the debt is not paid within a few days, the bank gets the ranch.
The duo of younger brother Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and ex-convict older brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) are now working a series of small bank robberies against the efforts of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). The rangers are always mere steps behind in their quest to arrest the brothers. The Howard brothers are close in securing enough funds to disrupt the Texas Midlands Bank daily operations for the week throughout its network of bank branches and simultaneously gather enough money to pay back their debts and put the ranch squarely in the family. Toby hopes to leave the ranch to his estranged sons in the form of a trust and finally break a cycle of poverty generations deep. Tanner just wants to do some good after having murdered their abusive father and spent so much time in jail. But he also enjoys committing crimes.
Hamilton is close to retirement, and quickly sizes up the brothers and how the crimes are being committed. He wants one last case before his forced retirement and is happy to dig into his temporary partner Parker, focusing on his Mexican and Indian heritage as a source of insults. Once Hamilton figures out the pattern of the robberies, the window of opportunity for the Howards is shortened and the brothers are forced to rob a bank on pay day in the middle of the afternoon. An impromptu shootout with the mob of townspeople forces the Howards to split up, with Toby narrowly evading capture and Tanner taking the mob with him into the hills, in what will likely end in a stand off.
But that’s all I’ll reveal about the plot. It would ruin it if I did.
Pros: The three lead characters are infinitely fascinating, and the details of the story slowly engross you, asking the question, what does a modern day western look like? This isn’t your typical heist movie, it has all the richness of film from the 1970s. Every shot and piece of dialogue is necessary.
Cons: If you aren’t interested in a thinking man’s western, then you might find the pacing a little slow and switch back and forth between the two groups unsettling.
Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Points of Interest: Comancheria (the film’s original title) is set in West Texas and is named after the region of New Mexico, West Texas, and nearby areas occupied by the Comanche before the 1860s. The phrase come hell or high water holds a double meaning for this movie. It can refer to a contract that requires that payments come through no matter what the circumstance OR when you must do whatever is necessary to accomplish the results, consequence or no.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It does everything it should do within the confines of the genres it samples form, and more. The characters are well acted, the supporting cast is engaging, the set locations are evocative, the action sequences are realistic but dramatic all the same, hell, even the subtext is clearly there if you need it. Hell Or High Water is my pick for movie of the year (and I loved Captain America: Civil War and Zootopia). Enough said.
Hell Or High Water is incredibly important in a world filled with Disney princesses, Marvel superheroes and new Star Wars movies. It respects the heavy films of the past, the ones before Jaws and A New Hope came along. The ones that really engage with their audience, and which are being eaten up as television shows at the moment. But films are self-contained stories, and television requires a larger commitment.
I hope that David Mackenzie influences a new generation of filmmakers to follow in his footsteps and leave the capes and tights in the closet. It’ll enrich our lives. But that’s just a theory.