The man who wrote the story of Sicario, Taylor Sheridan, has cooked up another slow burn thriller in Hell or High Water.
Centred around Texan brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), the pair carry out a series of robberies on branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land.
With small sums from each hold-up, the brothers aim to steal enough to allow them to pay off the mortgage in one lump sum thus offering Toby’s two sons a better future than the one left to them by their own impoverished parents.
Putting their scheme at risk is soon to retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played to perfection by a weathered Jeff Bridges.
As the film opens, a piece of graffiti on the side of a soon to be robbed bank reads “3 tours in Iraq, but no bailout for people like us”.
My own internet research of the phrase indicates it is based on an actual slogan sprayed on a wall of a foreclosed business, and it sets the mood for the ambivalence felt by the other characters in the story towards outlaws robbing banks. Rather than outrage, farmers and waitresses alike have no pity for the financial institutions that are part of the wider social problem of poverty.
Everywhere the camera turns are billboards offering debt relief (at a price), “For Sale” signs and abandoned businesses.
For all the bloodshed that occurred in different parts of the world under communism, I wonder how the bodycount under capitalism is stacking up.
Here in Australia, dairy farmers are losing money every day as they are forced to sell their milk at a loss, whilst others are vulnerable to their property being taken over for coal seam gas mining.
I found it hard not to empathise with the brothers, even as events take a more serious turn and they find themselves on the run with nowhere to go.
The film is being called the first masterpiece about the recent American economy. and brings to mind films like The Big Short and 99 Homes, but operates at a far gentler pace, in spite of the fact that the story is about guys robbing banks.
The relationship between the brothers feels real as they rib and jibe one another, so too the banter between Bridges and Birmingham plays out like law enforcement partners, with Hamilton telling Parker he’ll miss the shit-stirring once he’s gone.
As in Sicario, the tension builds to an explosive crescendo and offers up a note-perfect pay-off.
With flourishes of No Country for Old Men, this is one of the better films of 2016.
A Slow Burn That Builds Brilliantly – 4 & 1/2 Stars.