When I run through the plot of “Hell or High Water” you’re probably going to think, “boy, that’s a load of tired, old clichés,” and you’d be right. But what makes this a great film despite its familiar elements are the cast, the script by Taylor Sheridan and the sharp direction by David Mackenzie. After a summer of bloated, trite and meaningless movies, it is good to know there’s still quality cinema out there.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as brothers Toby and Tanner Howard. Toby is the responsible one, trying to keep the family farm alive for his sons despite the looming danger of bankruptcy. Tanner is the wild one, back home after serving the latest of many stints in prison.
In desperation, Toby hatches a plan to save the farm by committing a series of small robberies of banks that are part of the chain that holds their mortgage. Collect just enough money to pay their debts, then quit. It doesn’t take much to get Tanner to go along.
Unfortunately, their crime spree draws the attention of Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham). Marcus is gruff, enjoys tormenting Alberto, and is a week or so away from retirement. His partner just puts up with him.
As you can imagine, these four men are on a collision course. But while it may sound like you’ve heard this story before, you probably won’t be prepared for where it ends.
It’s a rare thing to watch a film and be rooting for both the cops and the robbers, bur that’s the situation here. Pine and Foster come across as earnest in their brotherly love for one another. And while Tanner may be the bad boy, Toby has a mean streak in him as well that shows up in an explosive scene at a gas station.
But Bridges is the real draw. Channeling some of the traits and all of the drawl of his character from “True Grit,” the actor is captivating. You wish he were on screen for the whole movie.
“Hell or High Water” is equal parts heist movie and character study. The retiring ranger taking on one last case in a bleak East Texas setting will remind many of “No Country for Old Men.” It’s just as good.