Sunday, November 20, 2016

Video review: "Hell or High Water"

I’ve seen a lot of great movies so far in 2016, but “Hell or High Water” still rests at the top of the list for me. It’s a combination of old-school Western, film noir potboiler and modern parable. It’s an action-heavy picture that has something thoughtful to say about the banking crisis and how it’s affected dirt-poor folks in hardscrabble rural states.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play Toby and Tanner Howard, rough-hewn brothers who came up on a farm in West Texas. Tanner went the outlaw route, spending most of his adulthood behind bars, while Toby’s had a rough go with his job, marriage and surviving parent all lighting out on him. Now the siblings are robbing banks at an astonishing clip -- two, even three a day.

They seem to be out for some purpose other than just money, seeing as how they target only banks in small towns. Marcus, a soon-to-retire Texas Ranger played with authority by Jeff Bridges, is put on the case since it seems too insignificant to get the federal authorities involved. Marcus and his partner (Gil Birmingham) start making the rounds, lackadaisically interviewing witnesses, etc.

Marcus has been phoning it in for years, but his dormant instincts get peppered up by the prospect of going out in a blaze of glory. A widower with no family and no real life outside the law, he’s in some ways less afeard of going down in a gunfight than rocking his way to senility on a lonely front porch.

The men gradually converge toward a dark reckoning, in which crimes will be punished and familial struggles played out. It’s a film that feels both urgent and sprawling, iconic and fresh as a daisy pushing up through parched prairie soil.

Bonus features, which are identical for DVD and Blu-ray editions, fall into the decent range. There’s a Q&A with filmmakers, footage of the red carpet premiere and three making-of featurettes: “Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water,” “Visualizing the Heart of America” and “Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water.”



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