Tonight was movie night as I popped the crime drama Hell or High Water into the DVD player. In anticipation for film five out of nine, in the best picture nominated category for 2017, I was under the impression this movie was a comedy, perhaps even a dark comedy. I was so wrong!
Hell or High Water stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham. Rated R for language, violence and brief sexuality, the movie was directed by David MacKenzie, and has a run time of 1 hour and 42 minutes. Hell or High Water was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Jeff Bridges, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing. It did not win in any category.
Toby Howard (Pine) is an unemployed gas and oil man faced with losing his family’s west Texas ranch to foreclosure. He enlists the help of his ex con brother, Tanner (Foster), to carry out a bold plan to rob from branches of the very institution, Texas Midland Bank, that is in the process of seizing the property.
The brothers hit branches in sleepy little Texas towns, taking small sums of money in unmarked bills. With their stolen stash in hand, Toby and Tanner cross into Oklahoma to exchange money for casino chips, that they then cash in for fresh bills. All is going well, until Tanner deviates from the plan, going solo to rob a different bank.
The string of robberies attracts the attention of Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Birmingham). The two men have worked together as partners for years. Although Hamilton is nearing retirement, he hopes to go out in a blaze of glory…or at least by solving one last crime. Parker pretends to dislike Hamilton’s droll sense of humor and the constant jabs at his Native American and Mexican heritage, but in reality, the men respect each other and have a close working relationship.
As the brothers in crime plan the last robbery, Toby’s motive is revealed. He is attempting to give his sons a future beyond poverty. Oil has been discovered on the ranch. The only way to secure that future is to pay off the lapsed mortgage with the stolen funds, and place the property into a trust for his boys.
Time is running out as the foreclosure is about to take place and the Texas Rangers, anticipating where the robbers will strike next, close in.
I was so mistaken about this movie. I had seen previews and from those short teasers, thought this film would have comedic overtones. There were a couple of humorous moments, particularly between the laid back but cunning Hamilton and his long suffering partner.
But this was not a comedy. If there is a theme that flows through all of the best picture nominated films, it is grittiness. The stark and oft times bleak situations provide a launching place for the characters to delve deeply within themselves and discover who they are. Hell or High Water certainly supplies the grit and the bleakness…and the platform for inner exploration.
All of these movies have stirred my compassion. There are so many ways for people to hurt, so many ways to face despair and overcome it or succumb to it. Watching the portrayals in tonight’s film, and each actor gave an outstanding performance, made my heart ache with empathy.
Interestingly, the expression, “come hell or high water” originated in Texas in the late 1800s, possibly in reference to herders who had to get their cattle to the midwest, no matter the terrain, temperatures or challenges. The phrase now indicates a strong desire to succeed in spite of difficult circumstances.
Hell or High Water showcases such dogged determination, from the Howard brothers and from the Rangers pursuing them. And my gut reaction to this well done movie? I just wanted to give everyone a hug and listen to their stories.
What this movie, and the four before it, creates in me is the strong desire to walk alongside others, offering hope and compassion and tenderness. And that makes Hell or High Water a very powerful film.
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