When a desperate father (Chris Pine) learns that the bank is going to take his family's land, he and his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) are left with no choice. They decide to rob the bank's branches, putting themselves in the crosshairs of an aging Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) in a riveting story of crime, punishment, and brotherly love.
'Hell or High Water' is far from the first movie about bank robbers and the law enforcement officers who try to track them down. Nor is it the first one where the filmmakers make the bank robbers sympathetic in both their goals and their characterizations. Yet, thanks to a brilliant script by Taylor Sheridan (the same guy who penned Sicario), and great performances across the board, 'Hell or High Water' isn't just one of the best movies of its type, it may very well be the best movie of 2016.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, it's no spoiler to reveal that the story is about a pair of West Texas brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who start robbing from various branches of Texas Midlands Bank in order to raise enough money to stop the bank from foreclosing on their family's ranch. Like most movies of this type, I assumed the first half hour to 45 minutes would be all set-up, showing how the brothers got into this financial trouble to begin with. But in a very smart move, the movie starts right smack in the middle of the robberies (not even their first one), filling in all the background exposition that the audience needs to know through dialogue as the film progresses. In other words, this movie – unlike about 90 percent of other titles – doesn't make the audience wait for all the "fun" to begin. "Hell or High Water" hits the ground running and doesn't let up until the credits roll.
The movie is also well thought-out. When I found out the premise of the film – including the fact that Jeff Bridges plays Marcus Hamilton, a days-from-retirement Texas Ranger who sees capturing the bank robbers as one last "hurrah" before he's put out to pasture – my first question was why the F.B.I. wouldn't be involved in the case, since bank robberies are considered a federal crime. That issue is handled in Bridges' very first scene in the movie, when his half-Comanche/half-Mexican partner, Alberto Parker (wonderfully played by Gil Birmingham), tells Marcus the F.B.I. doesn't want to bother, as the amounts the robbers are stealing are relatively small (a few thousand at each branch). Then there's a scene where the brothers go to a casino. My first thought was, "oh, now we get to see them gamble their winnings away so their forced to rob even more"...but, no, they're actually using the casino to launder the cash...cashing in for chips, then cashing those same chips out later in the evening to get different bills in return. Again, this movie's screenplay is as intelligent as one could hope for.
There are a couple additional factors that set 'Hell and High Water' apart from similar films in its genre. First is the screenplay's dialogue, which is filled with so many "quotable" lines and exchanges between the characters, the movie holds up to multiple viewings. But perhaps the best thing about the film is the fact that virtually every character in the movie – be they on screen for the length of the story or just a few minutes – is so well-rounded and nicely acted, that there should be some kind of special award given to 'Hell and High Water's casting directors (the team of Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks, to give credit where credit is due).
Speaking of awards, it's hard to imagine (although given the Academy, I wouldn't put it past them) that this movie isn't going to get a nice handful of Oscar nominations. Bridges almost certainly deserves one for his performance here – one of the best of his career – as does Sheridan for his remarkable screenplay. One can only hope that Director David Mackenzie, Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, and stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham get their share of industry kudos as well.
'Hell or High Water' is one of those movies that come along only once every few years – a release where everything...from acting, to direction, to screenplay...comes together perfectly and creates a film that could very much be considered a classic in the years to come. As I've said of other films I've fallen in love with, this is the type of film movie buffs like myself hope to see every time they sit down in a darkened cinema or place a disc into their home theater players, and 'Hell or High Water' doesn't disappoint. It's a great piece of entertainment.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hell or High Water' arrives on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD come housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for one's choice of either an UltraViolet or iTunes digital copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for Blood Father, The Duel, Mechanic: Resurrection, and Sicario. The main menu contains a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
Note: The back of the box cover (as well as the slipcover) incorrectly lists the running time of the film as 122 minutes. The actual run time is 102 minutes.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Hell or High Water' was shot digitally using the Arri Alexa XT and is presented on home video at the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. I might be talking about the near reference-quality aspects of this home video transfer if it were not for a nasty bit of aliasing that rears its ugly head in the opening moments of the movie. As the two brothers make their way around town in their vehicle, the background is full of some obvious aliasing and shimmering that does not get things off to a good start. Thankfully, this is the only serious bit of aliasing in the movie, although there are a number of more minor occurrences elsewhere, almost all of them happening in the background during camera pans.
With those issues aside, the majority of the image here is a joy to view – full of sharp images and considerable depth, well-defined facial features, and some wonderful colors throughout – despite the earth-tone look of much of the movie. Noise is never an issue, either, even in many of the movie's darker sequences, where black levels prove to be pretty solid. So overall, this is a very nice transfer apart from those aliasing issues, which are honestly not too bothersome aside from the opening shots of the movie.
The featured audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is pretty solid, if unspectacular – although a lot of that has to do with the fact that the movie itself isn't full of big action sequences. As one might imagine, the track is most aggressive during shootouts or car chases that take place in the movie, most notable during the film's final act.
Dialogue is exclusively up-front and center, but is also very clear and distinct throughout, with not a hint of muddiness. The rears in this 5.1 track are primarily used for ambient sounds and background noises, as well as to enhance the musical score, which also includes a number of songs. I detected no noticeable issues or glitches with this well-rendered audio presentation.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which is optimized for "Late Night Viewing" is also available, as is a 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital track and an English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are an option in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
Come 'Hell or High Water', this is a title you want to check out. It's not only one of 2016's best movies, it's got the kind of snappy, witty dialogue that should make it one of those films that you'll be quoting for years. While the overall plotline here may not be new, the movie is presented in such a fresh, well-acted way that it comes across as something completely original. This one is highly recommended.