Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Hell or High Water


I watched the movie without having seen the trailer so what I wrote I learned organically scene by scene.  Apparently the trailer contained what took half the movie to know which either speaks bad of the movie or of the trailer. You would have googled it anyway so I embedded the trailer in the end.

The opening was prototypical. 

A bank robbed by two men.  Cowboy hat and a large belt buckle worn by the manager meant it was Texas. Once the robberies became a spree it was cue in the Texas Rangers time. Bank robbery, cowboys, and Rangers in hot pursuit; if the movie had horses it might still have worked.  But even without horses, with the elements already available I can see an ending that would fit a Bon Jovi song.

Case in point, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pines) Howard’s ingress in that first bank wasn’t sexy at all. It was clear they didn’t scout the place because what should have been a hit and run had a little wait before the run. The bank teller could smell how green they were. OK, I thought, clearly there will be no elaborately twisted big moneyed bank heists in this movie.  Western ending it is.

Ben Forster did the most meeting my expectations. As Tanner Howard he was older of the two brothers, and since he was experienced ex-convict always he took the point entering every bank. His wild demeanor points to the lack of sophistication – a wild cowboy – therefore a shootout was just a manner of time. Add to that Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), Texas Rangers who were in cowboy getup; it only completed the picture in my head .

Upon reaching the halfway point my wait for that final blaze of glory was not as ho-hum as I expected.  There was a subplot, a sophistication I seem to be missing. The choice of banks was purposeful not of opportunity. Choosing loose bills was a technical choice which meant awareness of the bank’s investigative measures.  Then there were the cars. The brothers have a plan albeit clumsy in its execution but it was sweet in its irony.

The visuals of Hell or High Water was clear and to the point.  It was that kind of movie that can be understood by the pictures alone.  Since we know visual details are intentional this made the surrounding landscape is interesting. What were they for? Could there be a sociopolitical message too?  

When the brothers were driving around all around was a dry Texas landscape; factories looking abandoned – though they were never shot up close it had that feel.  The signs, ads, alluding to finance or more to the point financial woe gave that abandoned feeling. Money was hard. Banks vilified. The towns they were in were mostly dead though at times I wonder if that was a budget decision or a cinematic one. The surroundings not just a motive for the crime spree but a justification.   Why? What are the real life societal issues that inspired the story I wonder. 

Then the story skewed into the direction of Indians, present and historical.  There was an Indian Casino but mostly it was Ranger Alberto Parker.  Ranger Marcus was always giving out Indian insults and Ranger Parker lamented on the history of his ancestors. The sociopolitical angle felt like a hook; a setup, and being non-American I couldn’t understand. What was the movie really getting at?  Is it family or just the banks? Or sacredness of owning land?  

By the end subplot and main plot coalesce into a very human movie. I was always expecting the story to go one way (if I had seen the trailer first I especially would have); gave up on the onset in the goodness of the characters but when shit hits the fan I was more invested than I thought. 

It is a pleasant surprise I didn’t get to sing the song that at the beginning of the movie was already playing in my head. Somehow I was pulled in.  I empathized and I understood.  

And that is good writing.