Contrary to popular folklore, Jesse and Frank James did not steal from the rich to give to the poor. On the other hand, they weren’t happy with the outcome of the Civil War and robbed Republican held banks to help unsettle the new order. That said, Jeff Bridges’ latest film Hell or High Water has elements of both, and superimposes today’s disenfranchised underbelly of America over a modern day James Gang that also takes matters into their own hands.
The David Mackenzie film opens with Chris Pine and Grant Foster showing up too early to rob their first bank in the heart of West Texas. “The only thing you two are guilty of so far is stupidity,” the teller instructs Toby and Tanner Howard because only the tardy bank manager can open the cash drawers.
So you get a sense of silliness that possibly foreshadows a pleasing little crime romp. The prospect abruptly ends as Tanner (Ben Foster) tosses the helpless woman about and menacingly points a gun at her forehead.
Not looking like the hardened criminal, Chris Pine is taken aback, and formulaically, you wonder why the level headed guy has once again enlisted a loose canon. The obvious question then arises as to whether the less than murderous intent of the good bad guy will unravel as the story unfolds.
Fortunately Jeff Bridges shows up, and you get to put off the possible dread in Texas drawl that barks without biting – until it proves absolutely necessary for retiring Sheriff Marcus Hamilton.
This initially leaves him bewildered as the first bank robbed frets a digital camera on the fritz. “You can get a video camera at Walmart, can’t you,” his frustration exhibits that being a relic doesn’t mean his attention to detail or diligence is dated.
Bridges also does a number on his partner’s dual ethnicity throughout.
Alberto Parker not necessarily approving of all the “Indian” jokes leveled at him, he seeks possible refuge in being half Mexican. “When I’m done making fun of your Indian half, I’ll move onto the Mexican,” Bridges is immune to the protestations of his deputy who is played by Gil Birmingham.
One of three Native American characters who actually deliver lines, their presence is refreshing – especially since it should be a given for modern day westerns. The added depth also provided an unforgettable historical segue for the native American to blanket the banking industry, and the tidy commerce that plays conquistador to the dispossessed in present day.
And the desolation is in full view compared to the angst Americans suffer elsewhere. Abandoned towns and poverty that seems as limitless as the vast spaces that sap the pride of generations even unborn.
In the backdrop, billboards promising miracles of reverse mortgages and other such schemes can’t be missed, and you (and Bridges) know early on that the measured crime spree is attempting to undo shenanigans leveled at Pine’s family by Texas Midlands Bank.
Zipping through the dust in a series of stolen clunkers, Pine leaves the warp core of his other vehicle behind and relinquishes galactic command without effort or worry of being typecast. Cause in tow, he is easy to root for, and the landscape certainly doesn’t jump through hoops to impede the path.
On the other hand, his costar’s range also doesn’t box him into past roles and casts doubt on the whole endeavor. This means the whiney characters portrayed in The Punisher and Six Feet Under easily fall in favor of tough guys roles such as 3:10 Yumaand Pandorum and diminish the just retribution his brother seeks.
Of course, the Sheriff at the top of his game as retirement will soon lay him waste, the inevitable showdown awaits only whether we feel vindicated of a benign Robin Hood or the good guy who goes down in flames – setting bystanders a blaze with him.
But the banks win either way, and their depravity is what is really limitless.
Originally Published on Rich Monetti
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