Well deserved or not, the heist genre has received a lot of criticism throughout the years (most recently from Rick and Morty). Implementing the double cross can be tricky business, especially when the screenwriter’s attempts at maintaining reality is a higher priority than throwing in way too many red herrings to mislead the audience. I don’t even want to begin describing the movies that use enough triple and even quadruple crosses to make the viewer’s head spin enough to stop caring about their actual storylines. And then there’s Hell or High Water.
What goes into the definition of a film genre? How exactly do you boil down around two hours’ of events into only a few words? Briefly summing up something complex can be difficult at times. CBS Films’ Hell or High Water seems to defy its definition. Labeled as an action, crime drama, each of those individual descriptions are accurate, but it could also be listed as a heist film or a Neo Western movie, as its story takes elements from each genre. Together, they create a cohesive story that’s all about family ties.
Ben Foster and Chris Pine play feuding brothers who join forces to fight a greater evil: Texas Midlands Bank is about to foreclose on their family farm unless they can muster up $40,000 to pay off their debt. Enter the desperate plan that sounds both simple at its inception, then more complex as its details unfold. The brothers plan on robbing the very same bank they intend to pay off. As such, the bank’s own money will be used to pay off the family’s insufferable reverse mortgage, which it negotiated. Can they pull through without any hitches?
Jeff Bridges received a lot of media attention for Hell or High Water and deservedly so, but the story is also really great. The actor followed up an Oscar-winning performance in Crazy Heart with another nomination for True Grit and High Water in a rare three-year consecutive nomination streak. Bridges really is enjoying the twilight of his career with some great performances, but this one was a collaborative effort. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Film Editing and even Best Motion Picture of the Year. Unfortunately, it was a losing sweep for High Water, but the recognition was well deserved. And the original score was pretty great too, featuring the work of Warren Ellis and Nick Cave!
Foster may be the muscle behind the story’s hustle, but Pine’s the mastermind behind it all. Starring in a role that feels like a natural progression from the pre-Trek promotion of his James T. Kirk, the actor really does shine as an anti-hero and does a great job downplaying his character’s bad-guy elements, while highlighting his dysfunctional family. I was also happy to catch a young Amber Midthunder cameo before the actress took on a bigger genre role in Legion.
To top it all off, I especially enjoyed the film’s finale. In this day and age, it’s actually OK for a multi-layered movie to have a complicated conclusion. In black and white, there’s good and there’s evil, but more often than not, life takes place between the gray. It’s not always necessary to kill off the bad guy in every story, but the viewer must find some sort of redemption within him. This transpired in Hell or High Water and the film almost quadrupled its budget at the box office, but it still didn’t break $50 million at the worldwide box office, so there’s a lot of people out there who still haven’t seen it.
I recommend giving this movie a shot. It’s a great tale depicting two desperate brothers willing to do whatever it takes to help their family out. And it’s My Guilty Pleasure.