Other than its boringly generic title, this is a masterpiece in every regard. The critics are scratching their heads, wondering why it's so great and calling it a "sleeper hit". The reason they are so perplexed, and it's taken them by surprise, is because they can't read down the credits far enough to see who wrote it.
(At least, that's the case with English language critics — dig the French poster which gives full credit to the writer!)
The brilliant screenplay for Hell or High Water is by Taylor Sheridan (sometimes spelled Tayler Sheridan), who was responsible for Sicario, perhaps the finest film of last year.
(I only say 'perhaps' because that was the same year that Steve Jobs hit the screens, another supreme example of screenwriting.)
Hell or High Water is a gritty crime thriller which tells the story of two 21st Century Texas rangers on the trail of two bank robbers.
It conjures up shades of W.R. Burnett and features what may well be Jeff Bridges’s best performance ever. The movie delivers on exhilarating action and unbearable suspense.
But where it really scores is characterisation. We gradually discover that the two punks hitting the banks (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are brothers, and then we learn what really motivates them... suddenly the whole film becomes deeper and more powerful.
(There's a subtle and deeply moving moment where, in a beat up trailer, we see an old black and white photo of the two renegades as gap-toothed, tousle-haired young boys.)
And Sheridan doesn't skimp on the cops, either. The relationship between Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is beautifully developed and moves in a startling direction. This a genre movie which offers us both non-stop excitement and a profound emotional experience. What begins as an Elmore Leonard crime spree ends up as The Last Picture Show.
Come to think of it, this is also the best performance I've ever seen by Chris Pine. Or Ben Foster (whom I last registered in The Mechanic and Contraband). And, although this is a writer-centric blog, full credit must also be given to the director David Mackenzie.
A Brit, Mackenzie was responsible for one of the best films of 2013, Starred Up, which features a similar aesthetic of realistic, grimy, everyday brutality. There is one sequence in Hell or High Water which is particularly brilliantly staged — a violent encounter at a gas station which is all done in one shot, without any camera moves.
But if I'm going to start talking about individual scenes, we'll be here all day. The whole movie is outstanding.
I was on the edge of my seat for almost the entire picture, my heart in mouth, wondering how it was going to turn out. I can't remember the last time I was so invested in a film — I cared very deeply about what happened.
And, without giving anything away, I can tell you that the ending is very satisfying indeed.
This is a magnificent movie and I can't recommend it highly enough. Race to the cinema and see it today.
(Image credits: three of the movie posters are from Imp Awards — and that French one will gladden the hearts of writers everywhere. As will the painted one I found on Indie Wire. The poster covered with laudatory quotes — all well earned — is from Flick Direct. That's all folks. For now. Go see the damned movie.)