Apparently, Hell or High Water was shot entirely outside Texas, despite being set in West Texas. Also, there’s a bullet hole sized plot hole, in that Chris Pine gets shot in the late going and gets over it completely without any explanation. How a guy could get a bullet wound treated in the aftermath of a statewide crime spree is left as an exercise for the viewer’s imagination, and it bugged me, because everything else is meticulously put together, both from the point of view of plot and character.
Them’s all my grumbles, up front. Aside from that, it’s a good solid piece of grown up film making and one of the most satisfying things I’ve seen all year. It even plays to my prejudices by making Chris Pine turn out to be kind of a manipulative jerk as soon as he shaves off his stubble. For starters, it’s a solid counter to Money Monster; this is a movie about what the crash, and predatory banking, have done to ordinary Americans, and what a couple of ordinary Americans do to get their own back. It doesn’t go to plan, because when do these thingd ever go to plan, but the plan is the kind of smart that desperate men commit to, and it falls apart in much the way that desperate plans always do.
Above all, it’s grown up about what it’s doing. It hammers home the creeping poverty and bankruptcy of rural America with no pretence at subtlety; every sweeping landscape shot is topped or tailed by a roadside poster for payday loans or another store closure in a failing backwater town. The Howard brothers are set up from the get go as somewhat decent guys doing bad things in a good cause, and the banks are the unabashed villain of the piece. But just when you’ve got all comfortable with that, there’s one final confrontation between Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges where Bridges spells out just why Chris Pine is not the good guy, and never can be, not when he’s the brains behind a plan which left four men dead. No better man to hammer the point languidly home; for all that Bridges is a natural comedian, he gets his best results when that slow drawl is holding your soul up to the light and asking why none of the light is coming through.
Along the way there’s a solid mix of winning performances from the Howard brothers as desperate knucklehead bankrobbers with a better plan than meets the eye, and from Bridges and his partner as a pair of Texas Rangers trying to out-think them. Bridges and Gil Birmingham ought to be a running gag, with Bridges relentlessly bullying his partner with racist insults and mockery of the way that he always dresses just like him. And Bridges ought to be a punchline as a wheezing racist just trying to put off his retirement as long as he can by spinning out one last investigation. But somehow the pair seem like a working partnership, with a real affection despite the constant bickering. With a different budget, this could have been a whole TV show; Marcus and Alberto; he’s too old for this stuff and he resents the white man taking his land; together they fight crime. Or wait for it to happen while they eat T-bones, anyhow. I could have watched it all day.
And in what’s probably a first, the only real hero of the piece is a sleazy small town lawyer who’s taken pity on the Howard family and dots all the is and crosses the ts to make sure that the whole plot will hold up no matter what happens to the Howard brothers themselves. He gets one tiny scene, but he seems like the only person who got out of bed that day wanting to make the world a better place. That’s an original view of the profession.