MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1hr 42 min
“Hell or High Water” gets the details right.
In the opening frames of this gritty, great Texas bank robber drama, the camera pans across an outdoor wall with an anti-bailout message scrawled across it in graffiti. It immediately gives the story a time, a place and a feel: This is modern-day America, and it ain’t all good.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree across West Texas. Their goal is to steal enough money to save their mother’s home from foreclosure — to pay the bank back with its own money, in a rich bit of comeuppance. They’re tracked by a pair of lawmen, played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham.
So there you have it, cops and robbers. But “Hell or High Water” is much more than that. Director David Mackenzie is telling a story that is bigger than the plot of the movie, and he’s not afraid to interrupt his own narrative to allow side characters to wander into the frame, just as they do in real life.
During a stop off at a small diner, the two lawmen are approached by a colorfully cranky waitress who asks them, “What don’t you want?” and proceeds to tell them everything you need to know about her, the restaurant and the Texas town in which it resides in the span of about four sentences. This exchange has nothing to do with “Hell or High Water’s” plot, but says everything about the kind of movie it is.
The cast is uniformly magnificent, but it’s Pine who steals the movie. He does everything he can to bury the natural twinkle in his eyes, and it’s that glimmer of magic underneath wells of sadness that is the heart of this special, special film.