‘Hell or High Water’ Movie Review: One of 2016’s Best Films

Hell or High Water stars Ben Foster and Chris Pine
Ben Foster and Chris Pine in ‘Hell or High Water’ (Photo Credit: CBS Films)

“Toby, it’s a good thing you’re doing,” says Tanner (Ben Foster) to his younger brother. “We’re doing it,” replies Toby (Chris Pine). “Every step of the way,” answers back Tanner who’s teamed up with his brother to rob banks in the riveting crime drama, Hell or High Water.

Set in modern day West Texas, Toby, a divorced father, and his ex-con older brother Tanner come together after years of being apart to rob branches of the bank that kept their recently deceased mother in debt and is now threatening to foreclose on her house and her land. Desperate to try to save his family’s inheritance for his children, Toby only intends to steal enough to pay the bank what the family owes. Tanner, a much more experienced criminal, agrees to help because his brother asked and because deep down he really enjoys the thrill.

What the two brothers don’t know is that Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a grizzled old Texas Ranger who’s days-away from his forced retirement, is onto them and eager for one last hunt. He wants to end his career on a high note, convincing his half-Comanche partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), to join him in bringing some Texas justice down on the brothers. The race is on between the opposing teams, with the brothers trying to steal enough to pay off the loan by the end of the week and the two Rangers trying to identify and catch the two robbers before Marcus has to turn in his badge.

Intense and compelling, Hell or High Water is a 21st century Western with a strong cast who all deliver stellar performances in the first truly great film of the year. Chris Pine gives the best performance of his career thus far as Toby, a dutiful, loyal, and loving son, brother, and father who becomes a criminal to save his family from losing everything they own. He’s a man in over his head and desperate enough to team up with his career criminal brother to pull off armed bank robberies. Pine flawlessly conveys all of the desperation, fear, determination, and exhilaration Toby feels throughout the film.

Ben Foster delivers an unforgettable performance as Tanner, the older brother and ex-con who knows how to be successful at robbing banks and is doing it because his little brother asked him to. Foster and Pine have fantastic chemistry on screen and every scene with them crackles with energy and emotion.

Jeff Bridges is perfect as the crusty, laid-back, and almost too old for this manhunt Ranger Marcus Hamilton. He portrays the soon-to-retire Ranger as a slow-moving, methodical, and tough lawman who deep down is enjoying the challenge of finding and bringing to justice the two banks robbers. Marcus says to his partner, “I may have one hunt left in me,” and it’s his tenaciousness and humor that lightens the mood when needed. Gil Birmingham has great chemistry with Bridges as his partner Alberto who’s looking forward to seeing his old friend retire but will also miss him. Their scenes together are occasionally uncomfortable as Marcus, decidedly un-PC, teases Alberto about his Indian and Mexican heritage. However, the deep friendship and admiration evident in the way Bridges and Birmingham portray these characters lessens the sting as it’s obvious how much Marcus loves and admires his partner.

David Mackenzie’s direction is outstanding and the pacing of the film is tight and smooth, with suspenseful bank heists intermingling with quiet scenes between the two brothers. It’s a perfect blend of action, family drama, and well-place humor.

With exceptional performances, a terrific script by Sicario‘s Taylor Sheridan, and exceptional direction, Hell or High Water is a top notch modern Western destined to become a classic. It’s the best film of the year so far by far. Don’t miss it!


MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality

Running Time: 102 minutes

Release Date: August 12, 2016