HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Hell or High Water
HTS Overall Score:87
“Hell or High Water” was another one of those films that just slipped by my radar this summer. It got a limited theatrical run but all I saw was a trailer in front of one of the other summer blockbusters to wet my appetite. Although, having Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges in the same movie certainly gave me enough interest to mark down in my ledger that I was definitely going to see if I could review it come Blu-ray release. Fast forward a few months and I’m reading review after review of the film knowing up and down that it was one of the best movies of the year. Not to be cynical, but I’ve heard that a million times. Especially in a limited release film that gets touted as the next greatest film as an anti-blockbuster. However, people said the same thing about “Kubo and the Two Strings” and they were most DEFINITELY right about its quality. Thankfully “Hell or High Water” is just like “Kubo” in the sense that all of the good press was well deserved. It takes a sort of “Bonnie and Clyde” type scenario and blends in a little bit of the moral ambiguity of last year’s “Sicario” (which just so happens to have been penned by the same writer as “Hell or High Water”) and slides out a gritty and sleek modern western that hits all the right notes on that languid playing guitar.
The film introduces the two main characters in a matter of seconds. Right off the bat we see two masked me robbing the Texas Midlands bank at 8:00 in the morning for some chump change. After a slight altercation with the bank manager the two desperados escape out the back and high tail it before the cops show up. These two main characters are Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) Howard. They’ve been robbing banks all over the Texas plains and have a few more to go. I’m going to keep this part brief, as the finding out WHY these boys are doing it is half the fun. Needless to say, the audience isn’t clued in to the REASON for the robberies for the first 50 minutes or so. All we know is that they’re robbing little bits at a time from the teller windows to keep off the FBI radar and have a certain amount they need to raise by the end of the week.
The robberies attract the eye of an almost retired Texas Ranger by the name of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). Hamilton is literally months from getting his pension and lazing around on his front porch for the end of his days, but that’s not the way old Rangers want to go. Grabbing at the chance to nab these boys, Hamilton and his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), put their noses to the ground and start stalking the boys before they can rob another bank.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84970[/img]As I mentioned earlier. There’s a necessity for some form of ambiguity and restraint in describing the goings on of the film. It’s one of those movies that needs to be EXPEREINCED rather than know ahead of time what is going to happen. Needless to say I have to give two VERY hearty thumbs up to Taylor Sheridan’s writing of the film. Not to take away anything from first time director David Mackenzie, but the comparisons between the amazing “Sicario” and “Hell or High Water” are very obvious. He crafts the Howard boys and the Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton as differing shades of grey. Each of them has their reasons for doing what they do, and they’re both honorable to a certain extent. However they also have a darker side to their dealings that keep them from being truly white knights. It’s this sort of grey area that allows the characters to truly shine.
Tanner (Ben Foster) is the hotshot of the group. He’s the hardened criminal who has spent time behind bars before and is going along with the robberies because he LIKES the adventure and he loves his brother. Toby is the more complex of the two. You don’t know WHY he concocted this plan until later, but once you do the ingeniousness and almost selflessness of the plan is readily apparent. However, that doesn’t excuse the blatant disregard for law and order that they go through in order to take care of their own. Hamilton seems like the perfect law abiding citizen, complete with a generous law enforcement career, but push a man too far and you’ll find out that there’s a savage within each of. Just begging to be let out.
“Hell or High Water” is blatantly un PC and paints a vivid, if not vicious, picture of banks taking advantage of other people. This has been a hot spot in modern film making ever since the financial crisis 8 years or so back, with films like “The Big Short”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Money Monster” being created as backlash. “Hell or High Water” does much the same, but paints it in the veneer of a modern western. Complete with the good old boys, cowboys, Indians and good old fashioned shoot outs on top of a mountain ridge. But underneath it all is a running social commentary of what happens when the elite push the people until they have nothing left to lose. It’s not pretty, but it’s incredibly intoxicating to watch and woven into a simple story that is just as nuanced and complex as it is appears to be simple.
Rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84978[/img]Shot on the Arri Alexa XT cameras, “Hell or High Water” enjoys a magnificent 1080p encode that really is sleek and shiny, while still maintaining the gritty look of low income Texas. The 2.39:1 AVC encoded scope image is crystal clear with magnificent detail levels all around. You can see very bit of grime and dirt on the two Howard brothers faces when they’re out and about, along with the murky maroon of congealed blood and the sweat droplets on their brow. There is a distinct color grading going on here, with a honey colored tone added with some teal here and there to give it that earthy and worn down look that one associates with the old west. Black levels are wonderfully done, and I couldn’t even really notice any banding. Even in the darkest of sequences. All in all, this is one of Lionsgate’s better transfers in a long time.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=84986[/img]Not to be left out, the 5.1 DTS-HD MA track doesn’t exactly have much to be ashamed of either. “Hell or High Water” starts out with a bang, with both boys robbing a bank, including the accompanying screams, gunshots and roaring of an old beater car to get the party started. Dialog is VERY important to the flick, as there are large stretches of film where the boys are just talking amongst themselves. But there is also quite a bit of the film where gunshots ring out and the incredible finale of the bank robber’s hijinks ending in a desert shootout that makes great use of the surround channels. The old twangy country score is beautifully interwoven with the rest of the film, filling out the back channels with the melodies, while the LFE channel supports the whole track with a mixture of ferocity (during the more action oriented bits), and shifts back to a simple background rumble when not needed.
• "Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water" Featurette
• "Visualizing the Heart of America" Featurette
• "Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water" Featurette
• Red Carpet Premiere
• Filmmaker Q&A
“Hell or High Water” is one of those films that completely side swipes audiences. I’ve become cynical over the years with these movies that are a flash in the pan in theaters and come out with actors who WERE big in their day (sadly Pine’s career has tanked after “Star Trek” and Ben Foster’s heyday finished up a few years before that, let alone the aging Jeff Bridges). But I love to be surprised, and surprised I was by this absolutely amazing flick. There is a sort of slow burn energy to the film that keeps you watching the entire time, with flickers of explosive action to keep it from being TOO much of a slow burn. Pine and Foster have marvelous chemistry as the two brothers, and while Jeff Bridges does his “True Grit” accent, the older man does a fantastic job at playing the role of a man who’s in his twilight years of his career (ironic considering his acting career at this point). Audio and video are incredible and Lionsgate gave us a decent array of extras to keep us busy. An all-around Must Watch in my opinion.
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Directed by: David MacKenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Runtime: 122 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Buy Hell or High Water On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Must Watch
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