Go for the writing. Stay for the acting…and the soundtrack. Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, 2015) nailed the screenplay for Hell or High Water (2016) which happens to be my favourite film of the year so far. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie have made a terrific flick. It not only has solid writing and direction, but noteworthy cast performances. The picture is an unforgiving modern western that has memorable characters, smart and clever dialogue and a highly relevant plot.
Sheridan’s story makes a strong commentary on the banking system and the economic troubles faced by today’s ranchers. The film’s setting is harsh and dusty with incredible cinematography by Giles Nuttgens (Dom Hemmingway, 2013).
The film also features an outstanding score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. It’s epic and expansive with sad violins, but not grandiose so it doesn’t feel manipulative. The soundtrack is a sumptuous but simple mix of Americana and traditional-sounding pieces. It features several works by Cave and Ellis, who have previously scored The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and The Proposition (2005) together. The soundtrack features songs by Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt, Chris Stapleton, and others.
Why Tommy Lee Jones wasn’t cast as the leading man in this film, I’ll never know, but Jeff Bridges smokes up the screen and delivers an impressive performance as Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton who is eager to close one last case. He has some of the more memorable lines of dialogue in the film and contributes to the hilariously dry comedy. Gil Birmingham portrays Hamilton’s partner, Alberto Parker who is equally impressive. He is an amusingly stoic foil to the unfiltered Hamilton.
Hell or High Water has a patient pace and may not move fast enough for all general audiences. This film is a far cry from summer’s brain-dead and plotless sequels. Completely engaging, it’s a beautifully textured film that presents a tremendous sense of scale to the lives of the characters and builds a west Texas environment with lots of know-how and attitude. Now playing in select theaters. Go!