Hell or High Water: a bank robbery film for those who’ve been screwed by the system (so all of us)

David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water isn’t only a standout for great crime dramas to have come out this summer, but one with a message.

Set in West Texas, the movie follows two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), who conduct a slew of robberies in order to repay a family debt, all while being pursued by Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).  What makes the brothers’ story so interesting is that they’re nowhere near the caliber of professional that Robert De Niro was in Heat.  They target smaller branch banks, located in rural towns, aiming for the loose cash behind the desks.  Their heists may be sloppy, but they brilliantly cover their tracks, burying the crappy getaway vehicles in the desert and laundering their cash at a nearby casino.

hell-or-high-water-posterSicario writer, Taylor Sheridan, has once again crafted a phenomenal script full of shootouts, getaways, and a cast of characters so likable; you’ll have trouble deciding whom to root for.  Toby is the cautious, more calculated of the two brothers, while Toby is more brash and unpredictable.  Their dynamic creates a dangerous, yet sometimes comedic duo.  On the other side of things, we have Jeff Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton, an aging, politically incorrect Texas Ranger who refuses to retire.

Following the death of their mother, Tanner and Toby’s family ranch faces foreclosure from the Texas Midland Bank.  After it’s discovered that there’s untapped oil on the property, the bank seemingly becomes more eager to acquire the property and gives the brothers a very tight deadline to deliver the cash.  As a result, the brothers target Texas Midland Banks during their crime spree to basically feed the snake its own tail.

The theme of financial loss runs rampant throughout the film.  Several shots are used of the empty West Texas roads lined with billboards advertising debt relief.  While staking out a Texas Midland Bank, Hamilton’s half-Comanche partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) says, “All this was my ancestors’ land, the lease folks took it, and it’s been taken from them.  Except it ain’t no army doing it, it’s those sons of bitches right there (referring to the bank across the street).”  Even the minor characters are stuck in seemingly difficult times.  After it’s found out that a waitress, Jenny Ann (Katy Mixon), was in contact with the brothers and was given a handsome cash tip by Toby, she immediately becomes hostile when the police demand she give them her tip to be used as evidence.  She refuses to give up her payment, claiming she has a daughter to feed and keep a roof over.

Whether you’re looking to see a movie that really sticks it to the man, or just a really fun crime drama with lots of action and a colorful cast of characters, Hell or High Water is a definite standout summer movie and a must see.