Hell or High Water (2016)
September 14, 2016 5:10 AM - Subscribe

Two brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) rob small-town banks in Texas. Two Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) pursue them.

Lots of wide screen scenes representing Texas and the rural poverty within (a recurring theme, as well as the involvement of banks). The movie starts out - perhaps deliberately - as a stereotypical bank heist, with a stereotypical law enforcement office just days from retirement who could try and solve one last crime; then heads into deeper areas. Contains occasionally graphic violence, a lot of gun use, and racism. Music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Many reviews draw comparisons with No Country for Old Men, but there are many fundamental and significant differences so, although set in the same region, it doesn't feel like a sequel or rewrite. Having said that, there is a nod to that other film in the roles played by Margaret Bowman in both films (T-bone waitress in HoHW).
posted by Wordshore (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I liked this movie very much. I thought a lot of the incidental elements were terrific, such as the cowboys fleeing the brushfire and Bowman's turn as a waitress. The presentation of West Texas veered into satire -- maybe. I am told by some West Texans that it's pretty accurate. But accurate or not, I loved that it is a place with a troubling sense of frontier justice, that every single person is a hanging party of one, and they are all just itching to get their guns out and shoot someone who has it coming. In this context, Ben Foster, who would be a psychopath in any other film, comes off as just another variation of the West Texans we see all the way through the film.

Jeff Bridges, too. At the end of the film, he's also ready to just get his own gun and take care of things his own way. It's like it's a place that never stopped pretending it was in a cowboy movie, and everybody sort of knows it's ridiculous, but that's how things have been done and they don't get done any other way.
posted by maxsparber at 12:00 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is one of the better movies I caught in theaters this summer.

There's this kind of interesting self-awareness to this film, it reads as meditative rather than ironic. It's a pretty classic cowboy story playing out in a modern world where those tropes are fondly remembered but not actually welcome anymore, and don't really serve anybody well. Even folks who come out ahead don't feel much like victors.

I thought the ex-wife could have gotten a more sympathetic treatment. She had every reason to distrust Chris Pine; the "crabby ex" routine felt beneath a movie that was otherwise pretty sensitive to its characters, flawed as they were. I would have liked to know what her deal was.

Ben Foster's character was kind of key to the whole thing, I think. 150 years ago, he would have been Jessie James, right? All dangerous and charismatic. Now where does a person like that fit? What do you do with him? What does anybody from that world do with themselves?
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 3:34 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also thought it was excellent. I was a bit confused as to the financials but I guess they made sense if one hand-waved that the trust was in the name of the ex-wife/young sons and Pine owed significant money and they only had a few days to solve it all.

The racism between characters struck me oddly-maybe because I'm on the other side of the state- but it struck me as too aggressive for either long term or short term partners. I did like that there was a wide range of Texas Rangers (women and men of various ethnicities). I think I heard some criticism about how few (?no) black characters were locals but I thought the ethnic representation was appropriate for that area.

The scene with Pine and the punks made me think that even the brainiest had to learn skills to cope with his rearing but I think it also played into the ending..."or it may be I'll give you peace."
posted by beaning at 6:43 PM on September 14, 2016

I was a bit confused as to the financials

It was explained in bits throughout the film. They were stealing from the same banks (but for one) that were responsible for a predatory loan on the mother's property. The cash was then washed by converting it into poker chips and converting it back, which means even if the police figured out what was happening, the money itself could not be tracked. This was used to pay off the outstanding loan, and the property itself was put into a trust for the children in the same bank that had the loan. Because the property had oil on it, so the trust was worth a lot more to the bank then the stolen money, the bank declined to investigate further.
posted by maxsparber at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks, maxparber. Any thoughts on why he couldn't do a bridge loan to pay off the bank or get an advance from the oil company? If the trust still ended up at the same bank-which seemed to be a hinge point for why the bank didn't care to assist the Rangers' investigation-why not give him a loan?
posted by beaning at 9:45 AM on September 15, 2016

That never gets explained, but considering that the film is filled with characters who are just barely making it on the margins and don't trust banks, I can't imagine this was even considered as an option.
posted by maxsparber at 9:53 AM on September 15, 2016

As someone who has spent some time in West Texas, I can tell you that it felt right but didn't quite look right. It was bugging me the entire film until I saw it had actually been filmed in New Mexico. Ah HA. Character-wise, though, it was no problem for me to believe those people were from West Texas.
posted by ubiquity at 6:32 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure why, but his partners death right at the end took my breath away. I probably should have been expecting it, but man did it really hit me hard. I'd enjoyed the movie up until that point but that moment and then the aftermath really made me love it.
posted by Carillon at 3:35 PM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am told by some West Texans that it's pretty accurate.

I lived for two years in Lubbock, three in Abilene, worked summers in Amarillo and Odessa, and spent every weekend for 18 months in the tiny town of Stanton. To me, this movie absolutely nailed the feel of West Texas culture. There were a few things that didn't quite work (Post and Childress are about the same size, so it doesn't make sense to consider one a significantly bigger than the other, and the bank in Post was waaaay bigger than any bank in Post would actually be, and, yeah, the geography was close but not quite right). The big problem is that, unless I am missing something, there are no casinos in West Texas. The only casino I know is way down on the border in Eagle Pass. In most of Texas, if you want to hit a casino, you have to drive across a state line to New Mexico, Oklahoma, or Louisiana. On the other hand, I loved that almost every beer in the movie is a Shiner--a long-time Texas favorite.

Lack of actual casinos notwithstanding, this is one of my favorite movies in a long time. Just perfectly composed. I've been in a lot of those diners and crappy motels, and in a lot of homes of people who are barely hanging on. It's easy to imagine a couple of good ole boys deciding to set things right with the bank the only way they can think of.

The racism between characters struck me oddly-maybe because I'm on the other side of the state- but it struck me as too aggressive for either long term or short term partners.

As the son and the brother of Texas lawmen, I did not find that odd at all. Bonding through insults is a real thing, and race is definitely one of the categories open for choosing. The Jeff Bridges character wouldn't think of it as racism at all. To him, it's all good natured fun; a way of letting someone know they are part of the team, and that you care about them. (His parter, I suspect, was annoyed by it, but knows Texas cop culture well enough to read the intention.) I thought that interplay was echoed in the last exchange between the brothers ("I love you." "I love you." "Fuck you." "Fuck you.") Two ways of saying the same thing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:53 PM on January 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

I liked this film a lot up until the last quarter or so which seemed to devolve into a standard action picture towards the end. Ending a movie that was mostly about characterization and some very smart political and economic observations with chase scenes and shootouts seemed cheap and out of place.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 AM on January 22, 2017

I am really surprised by all the accolades for this movie, since I was rolling my eyes through it the whole time. It never made sense to me that the villain in this movie would be a reverse mortgage, which isn't a loan product I consider to be particularly predatory. It seems it's more the back taxes that were the problem. I get that the banks here are supposed to be the bad guys, sure, but I suppose it was never explained enough to me why bank robbery was the only solution. None of it seemed plausible enough to me as a motive. The rest of the film just struck me as a ridiculous fantasy, with all the frontier ethos and citizen justice. And in the last scene, when Toby essentially admits the crime, I didn't understand why this wouldn't have been enough for a later arrest. Just because the Jeff Bridges character was a retired Ranger? Ugh, I really wanted to like this, but I never connected with the characters and was never drawn in enough to the narrative to suspend my disbelief.
posted by megancita at 8:05 PM on February 1, 2017

The oil company would buy or lease the ranch from the bank, and that's probably what the bank was planning to do.

I enjoyed this movie, however I am troubled by the inclusion of graphic sexual abuse. I watched Wind River recently, and was troubled by it's depiction there as well. I can't think of any argument for it's existence in this film.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2018

The big problem is that, unless I am missing something, there are no casinos in West Texas.

The casino they went to was in Oklahoma.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:15 PM on January 22, 2021

I enjoyed this movie, however I am troubled by the inclusion of graphic sexual abuse

where was that?
posted by lalochezia at 8:31 PM on April 15

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