On the face of it, this looks like a rather typical heist movie. Two brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Forster, robbing banks in little towns in Texas, while the retiring local police chief, Jeff Bridges, tries to track them down. Seen it, done it, been there and got several T-shirts.
Scratch the surface of this well made film though and you will see it laden with social commentary. You have the two brothers robbing exclusively from the same chain of banks to pay back a debt that their dead mother owed to the very same bank. A debt offered to the mother which seemed to keep their whole family poor for a generation. Where poverty lives, you will often find violence, abuse and a lack of opportunity living right next door. As was the case for the Howard brothers.
The towns they target are small and desolate, and as Alberto, the second police officer in command points out ‘why would people pay twice the price at the local hardware store when they can go to Home Depot?’
A half-price hammer may not quite be the deal they thought it was.
One of the most interesting aspects for me was the reaction of the locals to the robberies, they just seemed non-plussed, with neither panic nor worry. In fact, in a standout scene, a waitress at a local diner fights with the police chief to keep the large tip left by one of the robbers instead of submitting it for evidence. The local people never seemed to think they were the ones being robbed, only the banks were – and the brothers kept it that way. The locals cared as much for the banks as the banks did for them.
Of course, there’s some shooting and a couple of explosions but the film never relies on this to excite, in fact, the most enthralling scenes are the ones without action. Also if you’re a defender of the right to bear arms in America, this isn’t going to be the movie for you, as everyone seemed to have a gun but nothing was ever prevented* and the civilians that tried struggled to stay alive for very long.
The film has extremely tense moments as well as moments of light relief. It reminded me of the Andrew Dominik film ‘Killing Them Softly’, with Brad Pitt, which has equally strong political overtones, comedy, drama and violence. Although if you were to decide between the two Hell or High Water is the far superior one.
There is a good chance though that a lot of people will overlook the political overtones in this movie, the same way when I was a kid and I watched Raging Bull for the first time, I kept skipping the talking to get to the fighting. The action scenes are OK and well thought out but it is the script, the performances and the commentary on big business, politics and their effects on rural life in America that really gripped me (aside from the main narrative, obviously).
I’d give this a whopping ™ symbol out of 3.33.
*A rather accurate portrayal if you ask me.