The neo-Western Hell or High Water is one of the funniest, saddest, most exciting, thought-provoking films I’ve seen this year. Wrapped around the story of two brothers’ attempts to rob banks, this wildly different film shares their relationship, the saga of the nearly-retired Texas Ranger on their heels, and the way that the U.S. economy plays a part in their story. It’s a must-see film of 2016, and one that you can now bring home on Blu-ray, DVD, or digital.
Desperate, divorced father Toby Howard (Chris Pine) throws in with his wildly spastic ex-con brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), starting a spree of bank robberies at branches of the Texas Midland Bank. Their plan seems flawless (doesn’t every heist film seem flawless at the beginning) but Tanner’s growing restlessness (and unnecessary penchant for violence) begins to grate on Toby – and threaten their plan. Meanwhile, the eccentric Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) leads his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), closer and closer to capturing the two. [Of the other actors on screen, Katy Mixon’s turn as a diner waitress is a scene stealer.]
The rapport between the two blood brothers, and the two brothers-at-arms in the Rangers, lends itself to a more intimate film. It’s a close-up on the robbers, and on the cops, but it shows the way that the concerns the pairs have are similar. [Note how the pictures of the two sets of men lay out nearly identical to each other.] They want security, friendship, and trust; they want to believe that their lives have meaning and purpose. But somehow, the violent streak of Foster’s Tanner seems to lurk like a threatening villain off in the corners. And ultimately, that violence takes a turn (as all of Foster’s roles do) that spins the course of the story off in a different direction from the feel-good Robin Hood vibe we have up until that point.
Until violence completely breaks out, we’ve been lulled into nearly believing that there are no victims because the big bank is really the villain; we can believe that we see ourselves in Toby and Tanner as decidedly upset with the way our economies are unraveling or that we’re just like Hamilton, hoping to retire gracefully when the time comes, just not yet. But we shouldn’t be surprised that somehow Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) script is both realistic and terrifying at the same time, at least if we’ve seen that Denis Villenueve thriller.
Somewhere along the way, we recognize that Tanner can’t settle for the same things Toby and Hamilton want; there’s just something off about him. But we recognize in the way that the storyline plays out that both sets of brothers would do whatever it takes for their loved ones, that they would lay their lives down for their friends. It leads us to reflect on what we would fight for, how we define justice in an unjust world, and where we would go (and what lines we would cross) if our lives were on the line.
On the special features included in the home media releases, fans of the film can see how the characters of the film were developed in “Enemies Forever”; the look of the tan-and-green backdrop to the dusty America our robbers inherit gets unwrapped in “Visualizing the Heart of America”; and the way the cast delivers the story gets a spin in “Damaged Heroes.”