Despite receiving near-unanimous praise upon its release in the US, Hell or High Water doesn’t do much particularly well, and it does a lot of things quite badly. Perhaps that is an indication of how low the stock of American action films has fallen in recent years. It is a predictable story of two outlaw brothers (Ben Foster, Chris Pine) who rob a series of banks to avert the foreclosure of their late mother’s ranch, while being pursued by two cops (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) constantly trying to figure out their next move. There may be decent performances from the cast but characterisation is thin at best.
Instead of discreetly alluding to the economic forces that have devastated much of blue-collar America, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Sons of Anarchy) ensures that practically everyone (and everything) that appears on-screen makes some reference to them: the waitress and customers at the diner who lament about predatory banks and crushing mortgages, to Toby’s heavy-handed closing monologue about poverty, to the repetitive shots of debt and foreclosure signs scattered among miserable looking landscapes. Even worse is Sheridan’s ill-judged and ill-executed attempt to tackle the Native- American question. Marcus continually taunts Alberto (who is half Mexican, half Native-American) with unfunny racist jokes, until Alberto retaliates with a solemn speech on the appropriation of indigenous land by the colonising whites that feels wholly out of place.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka