It’s impossible not to think about No Country when watching Hell or High Water. In David Mackenzie’s new film a taciturn moustachioed Texan with a haystack of banknotes is pursued by a wry retirement-age sheriff. There are big Stetsons, big 4x4 trucks, and big shoot-outs. Everyone speaks in the same grumbly twangy accent, using laconic humour to distract from the creeping sense of doom.
On the face of it, these similarities don’t do Hell or High Water any favours – No Country is superior in its gleaming surfaces and murky depths. But MacKenzies’s film benefits from comparison to post-No Country pretenders like The Place Beyond the Pines and Killing Them Softly, films that borrowed No Country’s pessimism and grandeur without also taking any of the humour or fleetness. Hell or High Water is simply a hell of a lot more fun.
Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are brothers from West Texas; Toby is a divorcee who stuck around on the family farm while their mother was dying, and Tanner is the kind of hair-trigger psychotic people cross the road to avoid. Toby has recently discovered oil on the farm - he's sitting on a lot of potential money, if only he can get enough in the meantime to stop the farm's foreclosure. This is when Tanner comes up with the idea to rob small local banks for petty cash, crimes too small to register on a federal level but which don't escape the notice of Jeff Bridges' irascible Sheriff Marcus.
Like Killing Them Softly, Hell is ostensibly ‘about’ post-recession America, and uses a pacey pulpy plot to ‘explore’ the financial meltdown and its aftermath. When the brothers start their spree, the script establishes that it’s really the damn banks that are the thieves, a stick-up being what they deserve. There are also a couple of blatant shots of loan-shark billboards and one instance of solemn speechifying, but Hell knows that it’s not that kind of film. It’s a thriller. It thrills.
Bridges and Pine square off in the central roles. Bridges gives his best Tommy Lee Jones impression, sounding as usual like he’s speaking through a mouthful of socks. Pine, as we’ve noted before, is preposterously fine-looking. Leaning against a porch pillar, his thumbs tucked into his belt and his shirt open to the sternum, he does a good job of taking the moustache back from hipsters and restoring it to the gay community of the 1970s. It’s a ’tache of absurd lustrousness; when a barroom floozy runs her thumb along its bristles, your fingertips tingle.
Pine encapsulates both the limitations and strengths of Hell or High Water. As much as the make-up department have tried to make him look hard-up, apparently by painting him in grease and giving his hair a ruffle, he still resembles a particularly lickable Levis advert. Pine and his moustache are simply too glossy and full-bodied to ever convince as the inevitable products of desperate poverty. But, dear God, they are a real pleasure to watch. So's the film.
|Hell or High Water film review
|Various Locations | MAP
|Leicester Square (underground)
09 Sep 16 – 09 Nov 16, Event times vary
|£determined by cinema
|Click here for more details