HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

August 16, 2016

hell or high water Greetings again from the darkness. A good guy doing bad things for a good reason. A bad guy doing bad things for a good reason. A good guy whose make-up doesn’t allow for bad things by anyone for any reason. Director David MacKenzie (Starred Up) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) serve up a quasi-western featuring a crusty old Texas Ranger doggedly pursuing two bank robbing brothers. If not for the numerous destroy-the-flow screaming political statements, this could have been a near instant classic – just a tick below No Country for Old Men.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers Toby and Tanner Howard. Details eek out slowly about each … most importantly that Toby is a divorced dad and Tanner is an ex-con. Toby has meticulously planned out their bank robbery spree. The goal is to save his family ranch so his boys can escape the “disease” of poverty. Tanner is along to support his brother … and probably because he enjoys the adrenaline rush.

Soon enough, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the trail of the boys, and his highly developed instincts and gut feelings annoy his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) almost as much as Marcus’ incessant and insensitive racial teases – a reminder of the days when buddies would verbally jab each other without the risk of class action lawsuits.

The performances are all excellent. Pine is the quiet guy resigned to a life without happiness, but refusing to give up on his boys. Foster is the wide-eyed trouble-maker who long ago realized he would always be one careless moment from the end. Bridges literally becomes the Ranger being forced into retirement (age) but intent on remaining somewhat relevant. Additional support work is also quite colorful in a west Texas kind of way. The wonderful Dale Dickey gets an early sequence with the boys, the great Buck Taylor is always a pleasant presence, Margaret Bowman adds yet another memorable character to her resume as the T-Bone waitress, and Katy Mixon (“Eastbound and Down”) gets to stand up for the little people.

West Texas is a character unto itself with massive poverty, oil pumps on the horizon, dusty streets, rickety fences, and gun-toting citizens everywhere. Each of these elements is beautifully captured by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Dom Hemingway), as are the actual bank robberies and the quiet moments between brothers and Rangers partners. To cap it off, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis add a nice score and even better soundtrack … the best of which is an opening song from Townes Van Zandt .

Mixed in with the impending gloom are some terrifically witty exchanges and some downright funny moments. Exceptional acting, a spot on setting, wonderful photography, and superb music are only slightly offset by the previously mentioned obnoxious and too obvious shots taken at big banks and oil companies. Sometimes a good story can be just that … and not a political statement.

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TAKE SHELTER

October 25, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. What a beautiful piece of filmmaking that up-and-coming writer/director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) delivers. Not only will the story grab you and hold tightly, but Michael Shannon‘s performance will stun your senses. All of that from a film with very few special effects and a story based in a quiet, rural Ohio town? Yes.

Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road) plays Curtis, a quiet, hard-working husband and father. His friend and co-worker Dewart is played by Shea Whigham (also Boardwalk Empire). Early on, Dewart tells Curtis (with a touch of envy) that he has a good life, and that’s about the best thing you can say about a man. It’s about this time that all heck breaks loose for Curtis. He has vivid apocalyptic dreams and visions that a world-changing storm is coming.

 Being the strong man and protective head of the family that he is, Curtis tries to keep this quiet. However, his behavior grows more strange as he builds out a storm shelter in the backyard, gets rid of the family dog, and messes things up at work. These things wouldn’t stand out for most people, but Curtis is the “normal” guy – the one who is consistent and predictable. At least he once was.

 Curtis’ wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and hearing impaired daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) are supportive and try to give him space, but the family demands are such that a husband and wife confrontation is not long in the making. Turns out Curtis has a family history that drives him to dig a little deeper and even seek help.

After much emotional wrangling, there is a scene at a community dinner where Curtis and Dewart have it out. Shannon’s rant is one of the more powerful scenes you will ever see on film, and may have just clinched him an Oscar nomination.

 This is a thought-provoking and emotional film that doesn’t beat you over the head. Things unfold at a natural pace, in fact, it may be too slow for some viewers. The score is haunting and never once over-bearing as we battled through these stages with Curtis.

The ending may prove controversial, but I just smiled a very satisfied smile in appreciation of one beautiful film. There could be comparisons to Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, or even the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man (sans humor), but to me, this one stands on its own as a story of love, support and strength.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see an Oscar worthy film with an Oscar worthy performance

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have your own apocalyptic visions and don’t need to borrow anyone else’s!

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