Hell or High Water

August 21, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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Let me start with a scene. Let me start with the very first scene, in fact. I want to describe the first 30 seconds of this movie as an indication of what’s in store. We see a car pull into an empty lot. A woman gets out (she has a hand brace, which is irrelevant to the film but is one of the nice small touches we find throughout). She starts walking and the camera pans away from her in a slow arc, past graffiti about being an Iraq war vet who can’t get any support. It pans through a dusty driveway as a beat up Trans Am drives past. It rests on the woman again, on the other side of the parking lot, under a Texas bank sign. She then walks toward the front entrance. There is a church in the background whose crosses are framed by the bank drive-through. It’s a simple few seconds that pass in silence but set the stage for everything that is about to unfold. Without any exposition, the audience knows we are in a rural, poor white Texas community and that this is a film about those folks. In fact, this film tells its story masterfully with almost no exposition at all (with the exception of a brief conversation between two sheriffs sitting on a porch waiting for a robbery. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves). We are lead through images and bits of dialogue to understand who these people are. And what we get is a taut and desperate thrill ride through dangerous country. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers up to no good and Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are the men trying to stop them. In some ways, this is a paint-by-numbers cops and robbers movie but there is always more under the surface. Each of these four characters (and many of the background ones) are fully realized and utterly believable. They are all angry, in fact everyone in this film is angry, but they just find themselves on different sides of the problem. The script by Taylor Sheridan (who wrote “Sicario”) has no wasted space; everything moves quickly and for a reason. And director David Mackenzie, who I did not know at all, constructs scenes beautifully, knowing just how to tell a story with images. He also builds tension beautifully (as in a great scene, where a slow to turn-over ignition had my entire audience gasp). But it is the four fantastic leads that give this film its weight. This is a story about America’s rotting underbelly. We are a nation of glass castles built on a collapsing working class. Over 40 years, working class and poor Whites have been ignored politically, culturally and economically. This film gives small voice to some of that desperation. And, frankly, we need more like it.

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