Hell or High Water

A film review by Larry P. Madden hell or high water movie poster

The film opens in a sleepy forgotten Texas town with graffiti: “Three tours  in Iraq—No bailout for folks like us.” Those words explain the sentiment as a robbery takes center stage.  Banks are the preferred target of brothers Tanner Howard and Toby Howard, played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively.

The brothers’ stories unfold to the tune of the loss of a Mother and ranch due to health bills and shady banking practices.  Director David Mackenzie paints the picture and backdrop for the brothers’ tale as they try to rectify the wrongs they perceive.  The west Texas values of ranching, Mexicans, and lynching are all expressed throughout the movie.  As the story unfolds, the economy plays into almost every conversation.

Comanche references start early as the brothers celebrate their success in the flat, dry west Texas scenery.  Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff  Bridges) and Ranger Alberto Parker (Gil  Birmingham) enter the fray.  Ranger Parker, a Comanche himself, takes the endless Cowboy-Indian barbs from his longtime partner who's headed to retirement.   

The brothers Tanner and Toby represent polar opposites.  One calculating and careful, the other fresh out of prison is as wild as the reputation of the old west.  With retirement jokes as his ammo in the quiet moments, Ranger Alberto holds his driven partner at bay.  Classic scenarios from a prairie fire threatening a cattle herd to the nonstop banter between the men are the fare of this rural tale.

As the story unfolds, the Robin Hood aspects of a classic Hollywood formula for the classic western appear.  All though, cars and trucks replace horses, the good guy-bad guy story plays out all the same.  Fighting crooked banks and land and family losses, the driven bloodhound Texas Ranger facing retirement appears nowhere near ready to hang up his badge. 

The desperate times and situations that turn ordinary men into extraordinary have always been a story’s “Pot  'O' Gold.”  So enjoy a  western “shoot ‘em up” where the “horses” wear Ford emblems.  It’ll tug your heartstrings, make you question who’s right or wrong, and entertain you to boot.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area.  A  recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.