Hell or High Water ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
When scruffy Texas brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) begin robbing banks, it’s more a question of seeking vengeance on a particular bank than a desire for money, even though they are poor. As Toby Howard says, he’s been poor all his life; his parents were poor and his grandparents; it’s been like a disease handed down from generation to generation. He’s a divorced father of two sons who would like to see his children have a better chance at life than he ever had.
Tanner Howard, Toby’s brother, is an ex-convict (out of 39 years, he says, he’s spent 10 of them behind bars). He is much more willing to fight, ignore the rules, and cause trouble than Toby is. When he returns from prison, their mother has just died. Both brothers feel they’ve been cheated by a certain bank, with seven branches in different Texas towns. They begin robbing these banks, taking what is considered small amounts, and not going after what’s in the vaults. Droll, about-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) methodically tries to figure out what’s going on with the brothers and what they will do next. He reasons that, since the brothers are only robbing the different branches of one bank, they probably have a grudge against that bank and are trying to get enough money for a particular reason.
For a time, the brothers are successful with their robberies. (Toby is able to catch up with his child support payments and pay off the debts on the farm. If anybody asks, he has the excuse of gambling winnings to account for his sudden wealth.) Although not very smart or experienced, the brothers manage to keep one step ahead of the law because they are bold (especially Tanner) and don’t mind taking chances. (They steal cars to commit their robberies and then have the cars buried under sand.) Tanner knows, however, that they won’t be able to go on that way forever. “Did you ever know of anybody to get away with anything?” he asks his brother. Toward the end when the brothers are parting and tell each other they love each other, they know and we know that their time is about up.
Hell or High Water is solid storytelling, a rich film with fully delineated characters. The Texas landscape is bleak and colorless; the Texas accents are at times indistinguishable. There’s nothing pretty or romanticized here, no special effects, no cutesy Butch Cassidy-type touches where we are made to feel the criminals are really good-hearted studs who ought to patted on the back for their crimes because they have such toothy smiles. If the ending (at least one element of it) is surprising, it makes perfect sense and we see, finally, where it has been heading the whole time. And, yes, Marcus Hamilton gets as evidence the baby-voiced, bosomy waitress’s (button your uniform, dear) $200 tip that Toby left her, even though she told him she had to have it for her mortgage. Did she really think he’d care about that? No, poodle, not when catching bank robbers is at stake.
Copyright 2016 by Allen Kopp