Opening 12 Jan 2017
Writing credits: Taylor Sheridan
Principal actors: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Dale Dickey, Gil Birmingham
Two estranged brothers, Toby (Pine), a divorced father, and Tanner (Foster), a tough ex-con, separated by their life choices, reunite after the death of their mother. Their inheritance is the family farm in West Texas. The deed of trust reveals that the farm is underwater. Not literally but financially. The astronomical debt is puzzling. Toby finds out the land has oil on it and realizes the bank must have known. Their banker tells them that come “hell or high water” the debt owed must be paid by the foreclosure date or they lose it.
The desperate brothers figure that the fastest way to raise the money needed to protect the farm is to rob banks. The brothers' spree begins. Hot on their trail are two aging Texas Rangers, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham), waiting patiently for the brothers to make a misstep so they can make this caper their last arrest before heading into retirement. Patience is a virtue, but for whom? The Texan way is an “eye for and eye.” (Karen Pecota)
The brothers’ plan is solid, smart, and timely. By any means necessary, they plan to save the family’s West Texas ranch. Toby’s (Pine) struggle to hold everything together is tapped dry, whereas Tanner (Foster) is fresh out of prison. That experience will greatly benefit their entrepreneurial venture. The initial forays go off without a hitch, although the State Troopers call in the Texas Rangers. Alberto (Birmingham), figuring it a worthy swan song venture, brings it to Marcus’ (Bridges) attention. Parallel action shows: the brothers’ wrapping up phase one, and Marcus and Al’s initial inquiries; Tanner’s spontaneous heist, while Marcus’ well-honed power of reasoning facilitates tracking their prey. In its final stages a hitch in the plan demands creative contingency thinking.
Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks cast impressive, strong lead actors, and notable character actors who make their onscreen time count. All embody the subtle disparities between the haves/have-not of their characters. The primal dancing between the Bridges/Birmingham, and Foster/Pine/Bridges characters is compelling viewing. With an eye on the wide horizon, Giles Nuttgens’ ingenious cinematography is smartly edited by Jake Roberts. Atmospherically accentuating Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ music are meaningful country tunes. Based on personal experience West Texas is godforsaken, which is possibly why this was filmed on location in New Mexico.
David Mackenzie keenly directs Taylor Sheridan’s intelligent screenplay, which he plaits with truisms, a modicum of humor, and despair is at its core. Alberto astutely encapsulates the plight of Native Americans contrasting how the white man robbed Indians of land and now banks are robbing whites of land. This reflects societies current disgruntlement with attending political repercussions. An unexpected development at films’ end convey yet more to ponder. There are good and flawed, and the bonds that bind. And then, “there are the things we do for our kids.” Come hell or high water, see this worthwhile film. (Marinell Haegelin)