Cinema Review – Hell Or High Water

If, as is surely reasonable, we can accept that a drama on the big screen is a reflection of the culture from which it springs, then the US increasingly appears to be a morally stunted wasteland populated by gun-obsessed egotists. Which is to say, Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election can have surprised nobody. By no means, however, should that suggest that this is anything but an outstanding movie – it’s just annoying to think that the cult of the anti-hero prevails to the extent that it does. From the same template as Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde (both of which are classics of the genre), the moral here is ‘he might shoot somebody’s brains out, but heck, he’s a nice guy’. It’s still a blokey white bloke’s world, in which retribution and self-pity swamp any developed sense of society. Toby (Chris Pine) is up to his ears in debt while maintaining the dustbowl family ranch in Texas. His brother Tanner (Ben Foster) is just out of jail and has a grudge against the entire world. Banks are everybody’s favourite enemy these days, so it’s perfectly reasonable that the boys should rob one, or two, or three – with guns blazing. Woo hoo! Marcus and Alberto (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) are the Texas Rangers who are on their trail. It might be argued that Englishman David Mackenzie’s film is an outsider’s critique of the good ol’ boys’ blood-stained values, but he makes no attempt to distance himself from the swagger and ‘poor me’ ethos. Its strength is in the relationships between the siblings and the two officers and the tension that slowly builds as dire fate inexorably leads them to a violent day of reckoning. Notwithstanding Bridges’s mumbling, dialogue takes precedence over gratuitous action sequences and Giles Nuttgens’s cinematography perfectly complements the arid mood. It goes without saying that girls don’t get much of a look-in – even Toby’s estranged wife has only a few words to say, although Katy Mixon’s fat waitress scene is desperately poignant. Otherwise fab.

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