Up for three awards at this year’s Golden Globes, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, Hell or High Water was filmed entirely in New Mexico (although the setting is said to be West Texas). It is a story of two brothers desperate to save their mother’s farm after she passes way. So desperate, they concoct a scheme to rob the Texas Midland Bank to secure their future. The film is rated R for some strong violence, language throughout, and brief sexuality.
The story takes place in rural areas fraught with financial problems for everyone we encounter. Except for perhaps the law-abiding Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes for this performance). He endlessly ridicules his Hispanic/Native American partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), and becomes obsessed with finding whoever is robbing these banks.
Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) have a bond that has transcended Tanner’s criminal career and subsequent time in prison. Toby is a divorced father intent on leaving his sons better off than himself. The Texas oil fields, grazing land for cattle, and desolate little towns with little more than a diner and a tiny bank branch are sad, depressed places. The residents are bitter and angry at the hand big banks have dealt them.
The story touches on so many moral dilemmas. Citizens caught in the crossfire of the robberies, taking the law into their own hands, vigilante style, don’t seem to be having the lifesaving effects their concealed or not so concealed weapons should offer them.
Townspeople who don’t even know the two-brothers/bank robbers are not cooperating with the investigation. Seems they don’t have any sympathy for the banks being robbed. After all the banks have been robbing them blind for years. Signs along the highway for “fast cash, get out of debt quick” remind us that these people are not better off than their parents or grandparents were.
I appreciated the screenwriting that allows the viewer to ponder the morality of the tale. As the story moves along, we are drawn to have sympathy for the bank robbers, wanting them to escape to safety, and not so much for the law to apprehend them.
Chris Pine does a good job as the quieter, calmer brother Toby. Tanner is a live wire, unpredictable and almost with a death wish. Marcus is really quite unlikable; his bigotry is not even thinly disguised in the racist sarcasm he dishes out to his quiet, long suffering partner.
We don’t know until the very end what the ultimate intentions of Toby and Tanner were, and how they plotted for a very specific outcome for the stolen funds. One of them or perhaps both of them really thought through their plan very well. Yes, crimes need to be punished, but the writer has formed it so that we sympathize with the modern day outlaws. I’d recommend this film to you. If you’re from New Mexico, you’ll recognize a few settings, and the story is excellent.