Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, William Sterchi, Dale Dickey, Buck Taylor, Kristin Berg, Keith Meriweather, Jackamoe Buzzell, Katy Mixon, Amber Midthunder, Joe Berryman, Howard Ferguson Jr., Debrianna Mansini, Kevin Rankin, Marin Ireland, John-Paul Howard
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Directed by: David Mackenzie
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/15/2016

Hell or High Water (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Troubled 'Water'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Hell or High Water is a great genre film. It's a film noir cannily combined with a Western, set in the modern day.

Film noir came about when soldiers began returning home after WWII, lost, and uncertain of where they fit in, and Westerns generally chronicle the time before, and up until, the encroaching of civilization.

Hell and High Water is set in a hardscrabble Texas after the economic crash, where things will never be the same again. Everyone is poor, everything is closing up, selling, and moving on. This movie taps into a genuine feeling of desperation and decline, and the fear of a bleak, unpromising future.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster star as the Howard brothers, Toby and Tanner. Tanner (Foster) is a loose cannon, having spent a large portion of his life in prison, while Toby (Pine) has an ex-wife and two sons and a lot of unpaid alimony.

The brothers owe the bank thousands on their family ranch, and it will soon be foreclosed upon. So they come up with a plan: they will rob just enough to pay their mortgage and taxes. This involves taking just the cash in the teller's drawers, rather than the traceable money from the vaults.

Meanwhile, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, in a great performance that recalls his Rooster Cogburn in True Grit) — just days away from retirement — takes the case, accompanied by his stalwart half-Indian, half-Mexican (and Catholic) partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham).

The screenplay is by sometime actor Taylor Sheridan, who wrote one of last year's smartest and best films, Sicario, and seems to have a bright future at the keyboard.

Director David Mackenzie is Australian, and has spent his career making strange, sometimes uncomfortable, envelope-pushing films. His last film, Starred Up, was his best to date, and now he has topped it.

Together, they have made the kind of beautiful crime drama that punches up a lackluster movie year, as Blood Simple and One False Move once did.

Yet it goes deeper, like a Jim Thompson novel, asking questions about why these people have done what they've done, and how they feel about it; it's not about the thing itself.

Moreover, Hell or High Water creates a vivid world where people actually seem to live; we can imagine them going on after their scenes are done.

It's also an alien world, where everyone is armed and that's the law of the land. Yet there's a fascinating kind of respect here. The only real bad guys are the ones who sit behind desks and get greedy.

Lionsgate's very good Blu-ray release includes optional subtitles, and three audio mixes, English 5.1, English 2.0, and Spanish 2.0. It comes with a few featurettes running between 10-15 minutes each, plus some brief footage from the red carpet premiere, and a 30-minute on-stage Q&A with Mackenzie, Bridges, Pine and Birmingham. It also includes a DVD copy and a digital copy.

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