Monday 28 November 2016

Hell Or High Water ... Banks are the new robbers

 A SENSE of desolation and desperation pervades director David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water.
 Two brothers are in dire straits, and the only way they think they can get out of their predicament is to rob the branches of a small Texan bank.
  They have a certain target they must achieve, come hell or high water.

  Elder brother Tanner Howard (a gruff Ben Foster), an ex-convict, and younger and handsome divorced brother Toby (Chris Pine) want to exact revenge on a bank to save their dilapidated ranch, the reason for which viewers will find out in the film.
  Banks are seen as the new invaders in this film, which is written by Taylor Sheridan, who plays a cowpoke. As President Barack Obama's eight years in office wind down, and the gloom that permeates the US has not lifted since the day he took office, US films often incorporate that economic wretchedness.
   For example, I just saw The Warriors Gate, in which a teenager and his mother face the daunting prospect of having to leave their house because the latter can't pay the mortgage due to her dismal real estate agent job.
   Hell of High Water shows two brothers committing bank robberies because they think they have no way out of their misery, but the film suggests that the real robbers are banks, who have no qualms about taking advantage of a poor family's medical bills to get the family's land that is filled with petroleum.
Ben Foster (left) and Chris Pine, who appeared
together in 'The Finest Hours',
relax in 'Hell or High Water'.
   Toby is the brains of the duo whereas Tanner goes along for the ride for the thrill of killing. They are hunted by about-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his long-suffering partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), who's half native American and half Mexican.
   Alberto's the butt of Marcus's racial jokes, but viewers can see that Marcus is fond of his partner. Alberto's racial heritage is vital because the two will have a deep conversation about a new invader in the United States.
   The photography shows the vast expanse of Texas, and viewers get a sense of the loneliness and emptiness in small towns.
  Posters offering money-lending services pepper the landscape. The graffiti on a bank wall in the opening scene says: "3 tours of Iraq but no bailout for us." This shows the resentment the oppressed have for the establishment, and Republican president-elect Donald Trump won by tapping this vein of insecurity and anger that permeated white America.
   A bosomy white waitress is desperate to hold on to a large tip, even if it may be stolen, because it pays for half of her mortgage. A cowpoke leading his herd away from a raging bush fire wonders why his kids don't want to follow in his footsteps.
   The relationship between the two brothers anchors the film. Tanner's just come out of jail and Toby is
Don't mess with Texas Ranger
Jeff Bridges (left) and his partner.
 willing to do anything to eliminate the virus of poverty that has been passed down in his family. The film is made even more interesting by the Rangers pursuing the robbers. Marcus may be a racist but he's got the robbers' tactics down to a T.
   Hell or High Water is about the downtrodden hitting back at the rich. Viewers may not agree with the robbers' ways, and even I may not see eye to eye with their dastardly ways, but the hopelessness that permeates rural America is there for everyone to see.

4 out of 5 stars


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