Elegy for the Midlands: “Hell or High Water” (2016)

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Brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), and the farm they are desperately trying to save from foreclosure.

One does not typically describe heist movies as “thoughtful” or “poignant.”  However, both adjectives apply to Hell or High Water, a story about two brothers who will use any means necessary to keep their family farm out of foreclosure.

This film features the usual components of the heist:  Quick-witted, resourceful crooks (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) pitted against a wise, experienced lawman (Jeff Bridges); speeding cars; and guns a-blazing.  All of this occurs against the expansive plains of West Texas.

But look carefully:  Instead of cattle and horses dotting the landscape, you will see graffiti that reads, “3 tours in Iraq/but no bailout/for people like us.”  You will view dirt roads lined with rusted-out buildings and road signs with advertisements like, “Home refinancing:  Debt Relief” and “In Debt?  Easy Credit at Statewide.”

In fact, the real backdrop of this film is the economic downturn that has plagued middle America for so many years.  And brothers Toby and Tanner are just two more victims of these difficult times:  They have been reduced to robbing banks in order to pay off the mortgage on their family farm.  Lately, the mortgage company has given an ultimatum regarding payment of the last installment….”Come hell or high water, get the money to the bank on Thursday.”  Just one more holdup, and the brothers will be home free.  Or will they?

Hell or High Water features good performances from Ben Foster and Chris Pine, and an excellent one from Jeff Bridges, who by now has perfected his characterization of the grizzled old coot (Think 2009’s Crazy Heart and 2010’s True Grit).  The plot is compact, with riveting action scenes.  And the plains of West Texas are majestic–if somewhat destitute.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find Hell or High Water in theatres near my home.  I ended up downloading it through amazon.com.  You can do so, too, by clicking onto the following link:


The DVD is now available for purchase at amazon.com.  You can access that link as follows:



Pluses:  Jeff Bridges, gorgeous shots of Texas plains, compact plot, bit players throughout the film add to the mood and atmosphere.

Minus:  My gold standard for this type of heist film has always been 1973’s Charlie Varrick, about a small-time bank robber (Walter Matthau) who unknowingly picks up some mob money during a bank job.  Compared with that picture, Hell or High Water gets a B+.  It’s very good.

Cast:  Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon.

Director:  David MacKenzie

Rating:  R (some strong violence, language and brief sexuality)

In Color

Length:  102 minutes

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