Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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!

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water
Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water

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Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Late this afternoon, as thunder rumbled and rain pelted the windows, I had the pleasure of watching movie number three on my list of Best Picture nominated films. I was especially interested in this movie because Manchester by the Sea was the first film distributed by a streaming service…in this case Amazon…to ever be nominated in the best picture category. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, this drama is rated R for strong language and sexuality and has a run time of 2 hours and 16 minutes. Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Hedges and Best Supporting Actress for Williams. It won twice, with Casey earning Best Actor, and with an Oscar for Best Screenplay. 

Lee Chandler (Affleck) returns home to Manchester after receiving word that his brother Joe (Chandler) has died. Long estranged from his family and the community he grew up in, Lee intends to settle his brother’s affairs and be back in Boston in a week. 

Plans unravel when he learns that Joe made Lee sole guardian of his teenage son, Patrick (Hedges). At a loss about how to reconnect with his nephew, Lee struggles with this overwhelming responsibility. As he attempts to help Patrick through his loss, Lee finds being in Manchester brings him face to face with painful reminders of his past, including his ex-wife Randi (Williams). 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Can Lee find healing near the sea as he fights his personal demons, or will he continue to flee? 

Manchester by the Sea is a frank and gritty look at life when the journey is impacted by horrific tragedy. Casey Affleck offers one of the most moving and honest portrayals of a broken man that I have ever seen in a film, and deserved his Oscar. I lost count of the number of times my eyes filled with tears. 

Although it has been described as a depressing movie, I have to disagree. Manchester by the Sea certainly delivers an emotional punch, yet it feels so authentic, so realistic, that it creates an empathetic ache around the heart. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
This film is a glimpse into a life suspended by pain and given over to resignation. Lee embodies a journey interrupted and the choice to withdraw from the flow of life and instead watch it pass him by. He gets by, far from being able to offer anything to anyone, simply waiting for his existence to be over. 

And yet.. and yet…life continually offers the chance to re-engage, to heal, to truly live again. And so it is with Lee. His heart has been so barricaded against feeling anything. The one person who might be able to chip away at the wall is his nephew, who in dealing with his loss, just wants everything to stay normal and remain the same. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea refuses to allow a love interest or a friend to rescue Lee, and I appreciated that. This is very much a man’s solitary journey and ultimately, the only person who can save Lee, is Lee. 

Don’t expect a traditional transformation or neatly framed happy ending. Instead, treasure the small shifts, the stirrings, the bits of thawing around a heart frozen by grief and guilt. Manchester by the Sea doesn’t so much warm the soul as it shines a light into the dark regions of it and offers hope. 

This Best Picture nominated film is worth a thoughtful viewing. Well done, Amazon. I am grateful for the amazing vision of this company, and I look forward to seeing what they offer next. 

Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

Pick up your DVD of Manchester by the Sea here, or rent it on Amazon:

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