Hell or High Water


Jack Brink

Hell or High Water was released on Aug. 12, 2016, in a summer movie season dominated by over the top characters and out of this world special effects. Comparatively, this film finds its footing as easily one of the best of the season, mostly due to its gritty realism and its believable, relatable characters.

Hell or High Water tells the story of two Texan brothers, Toby and Tanner Howard (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively), who plan to rob a series of banks over the course of a week for a grand plan that Toby hopes will set his family for life. The head rangers assigned to their case are the nearly-retired Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), and his Mexican, Native American partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who are hot on the brothers’ trail as the week approaches its end.

The reason why the film works so well is because instead of being a cliché “bank robber drama”, like the description may lead you to believe, the movie expresses and utilizes its four previously listed characters to give the story a dynamic outstanding to any one of its summer-release-date counterparts. The chemistry these two sets of characters have are off the charts, providing for both many touching, as well as many funny, scenes between them. Their actors’ performances are also phenomenal. They give the movie the heart needs to go from being a “pretty cool action movie” to a must see drama.

All of the main characters are compelling, and their actors are so believable in their roles that it’s impossible not to sympathize with and root for all of them, which is quite ironic considering how drastically different the motives for each two sets of characters are. You’re allowed to cheer for everyone, as thankfully the movie doesn’t try to paint any of them as “the bad guy”.

Sure, they all have their demons: Toby’s been a pretty absent father to his children, Travis spent time in jail for the murder of his father, and Marcus is pretty racists towards Alberto (I mean, he’s an eighty-year-old man in the heart of Texas, what did you expect?). But, Toby commits the crimes that he does in order to provide for his family, Travis tags along for the sheer sake of helping his brother out, and Marcus teases people like Alberto so that he won’t be forgotten when he retires.

They’re not cruel villains, they’re human beings. Human beings who are prone to mistakes and ups and downs just like all of us. We could be any one of these people, which is one of my favorite parts of this film. There’s not always going to be good and bad guys in a real life situation; sometimes it is all a very gray area, just like it is here. You can see where both sides are coming from, why the brothers are doing what they’re doing, and why the rangers have to do what they do.

While there’s no concrete villain in Hell or High Water, many of the characters in the film help relay to the audience the fact that the banks in the U.S. have really screwed over a lot of people…  So much so that they might be willing to rob said banks. This is very true for many individuals in tough situations, and makes you think what you’d do if you were to find yourself in a similar scenario. All it takes is one bad year, and you could become a criminal in the blink of an eye, just like Toby did.

A lot of the time, crime is just about surviving and necessity, not making it rich and gaining luxury. This motive is portrayed by the characters wonderfully in this film, as Toby and Travis are never seen enjoying their stolen wealth or parading it around like you would see in other crime movies. Instead, they save that money so that it can be used to provide for Toby’s family, something Toby couldn’t have done before stepping outside of the law. The movie doesn’t glamorize crime at all. We never see any beautiful, high-roller cities or oversized mansions, just stunning cinematography that takes us to the scorching deserts and near ghost towns of Texas. It’s an eloquent and articulate on-screen representation of what crime is really like.

We have so much sympathy for the characters because of how believable and realistic they are. That, combined with the suspense for when our favorite robbers and rangers cross paths, kills us, and has us sitting on the edge of our seat until the bitter end. And when the third act finally arrives, it’s well worth the wait. It’s a heart-racing, insane, nail-biting conclusion that has us watching in amazement and fear for our favorite characters’ lives.

I highly recommend that you go see Hell or High Water. The down to earth characters and its extreme realism, mixed with its thrilling action and gorgeous Texas scenery easily make it one of the best movies of the summer, if not of all of 2016.