- Actors: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Katy Mixon, Kevin Rankin
- Director: David Mackenzie
- Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region A/1
- Number of discs: 2
- Rated: R
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Release Date: November 22, 2016
- Run Time: 122 minutes
The film industry has become a strange beast in recent years, where Award-winning directors such as Charlie Kaufman are unable to get studios to take a chance on his critically acclaimed visions, but they will recklessly pillage any and all franchises for unoriginal dribble in hopes that it will become an international cash cow. It would be easy to become disheartened by the lack of creativity in the film industry, if independent filmmaking hadn’t found a way to pick up the slack. Kaufman eventually funded the award-winning Anomalisa through crowd sourcing, and Hell or High Water was made independent of the creatively-crippled studio system.
The odd thing about Hell or High Water is that it resembles the type of film that would usually come from a major studio. There is plenty of action within the simple plot involving bank-robbing brothers in West Texas, and the film has several movie stars. The only thing to separate this film from a studio film is the fact that it isn’t a sequel or a remake. Dropping the audience right into the storyline beginning with the first bank robbery, we soon discover that single father Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) are on a mission to rob several branches of the bank that is threatening to foreclose on their family land. The simplicity of this decision is countered by their careful planning and thoughtful consideration of the likely outcome.
Hell or High Water is likely to be compared to Sicario, as it is another realistic border state crime drama written by Taylor Sheridan, but it actually reminded me far more of No Country For Old Men, if only because both have grizzled and seasoned old law enforcement officers on the trail of the criminals. In Hell or High Water, it is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), cleverly tracking the brothers down as he bickers with his younger partner (Gil Birmingham). Bridges has enough fun with the role that it almost becomes his film at moments.
The simplicity of the plot allows for an attention to detail that was also an asset of Sicario, but there are layers of older Hollywood traditions in the filmmaking as well. Bonnie and Clyde would be an obvious example because of the bank robberies, but the film also builds to a climax that reminded me of an old Humphrey Bogart film noir called High Sierra (1941), which ends with a shootout in the title mountains. But beyond the action is a storyline with modern social relevance, grounding the shoot-‘em-up sequences with realistic drama and several dedicated performances. That director David Mackenzie gives as much attention to the drama as he does the action is yet another indicator that this is not a studio film.
The Blu-ray release of Hell or High Water also comes with a DVD and Digital HD copies of the film. The special features (like the film itself) are far better than they have any right being. There are three featurettes which sound fairly generic, but none are brief and all have interesting comments from key cast and crew. “Enemies Forever” is a 13-minute feature about the characters in the film, which a lot of insight from Sheridan. The companion featurette with that is “Damaged Heroes,” which talks about the performances as well as the characters the actors are playing. “Visualizing the Heart of America” is about the shooting locations found to stand in for Texas, where the film is supposed to take place. The briefest of the extras is a few minutes of footage from the red carpet of the premiere, whereas the longest is the 30-minute Q&A with Mackenzie, Bridges, Pine, and Birmingham at an LA screening.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 7.5/10
Special Features: 7/10