Set in some small towns of West Texas that modern society seems to have forgotten, “Hell or High Water” offers a commentary on how harmful our profit-driven economy can be and to what lengths people will go to make sure their families have a secure financial future.
A twist on the heist film
It all starts with a bank robbery. Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) Howard hit a Texas Midlands bank early in the morning, taking only what’s in the drawer. They’ve already prepared a way to get rid of the car: burying it in a pre-made tunnel on the family farm. Toby is the calm mastermind while Tanner is the wild one. One of the mask-wearing brothers apologizes to the bank folks while the other revels in the rush of the heist.
The two Texas Rangers tasked with catching the boys are an unlikely pair. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), days away from his retirement, continuously hurls friendly-intentioned insults at his half Comanche, half Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who lets them roll off his back without complaint. The stinging banter hides a deep friendship.
Toby's cross to bear
The film plays out in a slow, unassuming manner. Toby and Tanner rob while Marcus and Alberto try to get ahead of the brothers, guessing where their next target will be. In between the action, the conversations between the brothers tell a sad story. Tanner has been out of jail for a year after killing their abusive father. Mamma Howard died three months ago. The bank threatens to foreclose on the farm just when Toby has discovered it’s sitting on a fortune in oil. All Toby wants is to be able to provide for his ex-wife and their two sons. The bank robberies enable Toby to pay overdue child support and the back taxes on the property.
Some critics are calling “Hell or High Water” the best film of 2016 to date. As far as quality filmmaking and acting goes, I would have to agree, but it is deservedly R-rated. Chris Pine and Ben Foster superbly portray the brothers who love each other very much but are so different. Pine, with few words, captures Toby’s consternation at the lengths to which he will go to provide for his kids. Jeff Bridges seems born to the role of Marcus. He’s the old lawman who contemplates what will happen to him when he no longer wears the badge. All the main actors embody their roles so well we almost believe they are these people.
As a believing person watching “Hell or High Water,” I was left with a question to contemplate: why, as a society, do we even allow people to get into such poverty, that they have to resort to crime to provide for their families? I don’t pretend to have the answers for the ills of our society. Rather, I find myself thinking and praying about the challenge that Pope Francis has consistently made to always put the good of people, rather than any material gain, at the center of our individual actions as well as our public policy and corporate goals. How do you intend to meet this challenge?