The Ill Communication

An assessment of 'Hell or High Water'
September 6, 2016 | 22:54 | Written by: snake911

Taking a left turn in my normal movie watching habits, I steered away from seeing any big blockbuster movies with superheroes in them this Labor Day weekend.  Instead I went and saw a more down to earth film dealing with harsh realities of modern living and coming up with ways to resolve them.  Good times, am I right?

With Hell or High Water, we have a present day western that takes place in the rural, open plains of West Texas.  With it, we get your cliché of gun fights, standoffs, running from the law, dusty trails, and cowboys; however, it’s not your typical run of the mill western as this story has a more personal connection.  Maybe it’s due to the fact that many can relate to the hardships everyone is facing in the region where the movie takes place, where finding ways to make ends meet is becoming increasing difficult to achieve.

We follow two brothers on a path of robbing numerous banks throughout Western Texas.  Toby, the younger brother, along with his older brother, Tanner, who recently got released from prison, create enough of a stink to get the Texas Rangers involved to investigate the string of robberies they’ve committed.  This is when Marcus Hamilton (played by Jeff Bridges), a surely and racist elder of the force near retirement, and his slightly younger partner, Alberto Parker, enter the scene.

The movie primarily focuses on the brothers, showing even though there attitudes and ways of thinking are different and get them to disagree on a lot of matters, they stick together through thick, through thin, and through extremely thick situations.  Same goes for the Rangers, but there’s is more about partners that are forced to work with one another when bigotry is causing a rift in the relationship.  They like each other, but with Marcus’s outdated ways of thinking -- which acts as the sourness that exists between them -- it sometimes can be an emotional toll for Alberto.

But when it comes to the brothers struggling financial situation, they are not alone.  They just acted out on the frustration.  Everywhere the movie takes us, everyone is living a poverty-like life.  Mid-to-small farms and ranches just don’t bring enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle.  All are struggling with their careers to make just enough to put food on the table, or to keep a roof over their children’s head.  All along the highways are billboards showing sanctuary in getting quick loans, obviously with high interest rates, and thus keeping the cycle of poverty in motion, preventing anyone from escaping the rising cost of personal debt.  In the film, they relate this type of living as a disease that is inherited from generation to generation.  From grandparents, to parents, to children.

I think director David Mackenzie said it best: "good people do bad things for good reasons."  It’s hard to tell what the motivation is for the brother’s actions until later in the story, but it’s hard to justify their actions when they continue with stealing money from bank after bank.  But at the same time, it’s not shown that the banks are squeaky clean too.  Moral and ethical claims can be raised for both sides, which can be setup for the audience to root for whichever one is the lesser of two evils.

The soundtrack is very powerful and combines both a mixture of both original music which is very drama focused and string heavy, and tracks from artists that invoke the kind of music folks from southern states such as Texas and New Mexico, pulling you into the regions lifestyle and attitude.  Now I’m not one who cares for country music, but the songs they chose fit the scenes well and deserves a perfect score for the soundtrack.  Equal props go towards the cinematography for giving large sweeping shots of the beautiful open landscape of West Texas (which ironically was actually filmed in New Mexico) with tighter shots of what small towns look like that are stretched miles apart from one another and raise a feeling that time left them behind to slowly decay.  Having family in Barstow, California, which is a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, it rings of similarities in both aesthetics and way of life.

So to conclude, it’s a movie worth watching.  I don’t buy movies like I used to, but I’m definitely reserving a spot on the shelf for this one once it comes out on Blu-ray.  If you want to see it in theaters, you need to get there soon because the movie debuted on August 13th, nearly a month ago, so it probably has a week left before it’s pulled.

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