With Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario heralding a potentially great new voice in Sons Of Anarchy actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, this muscular seventies crime drama arrives to well and truly confirm his talent. Pairing Chris Pine and Ben Foster as a pair of down-and-out Texan brothers, David Mackenzie’s Hell Or High Water hits the ground running, not so much with physical momentum, but with the same kind of character-driven verve that made Sicario the most unexpected success story of last year.
A character drama above all else, Hell Or High Water sees the Howard brothers – Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) – reunited following Tanner’s incarceration for the murder of their abusive father. With their mother ailing, it falls to the pair to save the family ranch and secure a future for divorced but devoted Toby’s children, through the careful and calculated robbery of a series of banks. Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is hot on the pair’s trail, the veteran lawman determined to start impending retirement only when the job is done.
With elements of the Western as well as the down and dirty drama of Hollywood four decades past, Hell Or High Water startles with a complex web of factors: stellar writing by Sheridan – who also enjoys a brief cameo – intricate characterisation, terrific performances, and sublime cinematography by Perfect Sense’s Giles Nuttgens. After being creatively waylaid with the lamentable Jack O’Connell vehicle Starred Up, Mackenzie returns to his former high calibre here, with a robust and substantial effort that sees him rounding out the perfect all-round package and delivering a fresh, feisty and furious tale of duty and family.
Pine brings a performance to the table that quickly becomes his career best, weathered and beaten but without the weakness of spirit so typically imbued in such a character. Foster is on fine form as always, trying to continue his well-established pattern of emerging the best aspect of any project he’s involved in, hampered only by “merely” being as great as everything else at work. It’s Bridges who walks away truly triumphant though, afforded a terrific role to which he dedicates a well-calibrated and thoughtful delivery, running perilously close to stealing the film entirely.
As with Sicario, however, it’s hard to deny that Taylor Sheridan is the film’s true star. With an insightful and engaging screenplay at its core, Hell Or High Water manages to be suspenseful, engaging and even outright hilarious all at the same time. A stout and well-built tale, it’s two for two for someone whose writing career is just beginning; with the Sicario sequel, Soldado, next on the docket, that career promises to be one hell of a ride.
Hell Or High Water is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, September 9th; rated 15. Check out the trailer below.