By Bradley Lane
Hell or High Water is essentially a story about a man’s plan to escape intergenerational poverty and make a better life for his children. Struggling to make ends meet and fearing his son growing up without options to make a decent living for himself, Toby Howard plans to rob banks to pay off his debts in order to secure a better future for his son. Despite being a relatively clean-cut, if not troubled man, Toby turns to his reckless brother, Tanner for help robbing the banks and laundering the money. All the while two Texas Rangers, one right on the edge of retirement, are hot on their trail.
The pairing of Toby and Tanner leads to much of the drama in the film, but it also serves to reveal so much about their characters’ complexities as they interact and fight with one another. Similarly, the authorities after the two brothers, a couple of Texas Rangers played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, create a bevy of interesting character moments between them. This exploration of two odd couples throughout the film creates an incredibly unique lens for the film to communicate its ideas.
David Mackenzie is certainly no slouch when it comes to directing this picture, but despite the competent hands behind the camera, Sheridan’s script emerges as the clear voice of the film. Sheridan does not just write characters, rather he utilizes the character’s own perspective, that of the common clay of West Texas to comment on everything from wealth inequality to American expansionism and in true Western fashion, how we define justice. So many of the characters’ motivations are directly related to the ways they have experienced various institutions designed to help them, cheat, lie and change the rules at the expense of the people who help serve those very same institutions.
All of Sheridan’s work explores how institutions fail the people they are designed to serve, but his target in Hell or High Water is clear from the very first scene as the camera passes over the side of a bank that reads, “3 TOURS IN IRAQ AND NO BAILOUT FOR PEOPLE LIKE US.” It is a film that never forgets to have fun while exploring heavy themes but perfectly marries the two together, as they come to a near-perfect conclusion in the very last quiet and tense scene. Hell or High Water is available to stream on Netflix now and is a perfect way to spend your time while you practice social distancing. – 4/5 stars