The 2016 feature by David Mackenzie tells the story of 2 brothers who will stop at nothing to save the land of their deceased mother, the last link to their childhood, and the riches that the oil under her land will promise. Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is a Texas lawman weeks before a forced retirement, training Alberto (Gil Birmingham) to be able to take his place. Just when it seems like it will be a quiet couple of weeks before his retirement, a rash of bank robberies occur and Marcus and Alberto take the responsibility to solve the case. After their mother passed away, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) were faced with the realization that the land on which she lived was being seized by the bank. Toby has a former wife and a child to think about while Tanner is constantly on the run, in and out of jail. All of the performers in this film, right down to the bit players, are quite good, but Bridges shows yet again that he is one of the finest actors in America.
Bridges takes over the film every time he’s on screen. He doesn’t want to give up his job because, we feel, he wants to hold on to a West that no longer exists. . Pine, who usually chooses action hero type roles, makes us question whether he might not be a better character actor. He’s excellent here in part because the weight of the movie isn’t resting on his back. Ben Foster does a pretty mean impression of a man who looks like he’s spent a week living in a gutter. One character, a half-Comanche, puts it in perspective when he matter-of-fact observes that, 150 years ago, all this land belonged to his people. Hell or High Water is more of a drama than a thriller, although there are “thriller-type” elements in place. Mackenzie prefers extended takes and tracking shots which lift the film to great cinematic heights. Mackenzie takes great pains to provide a compelling, credible motive for Toby and Tanner and to illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the men pursuing them. In the superbly tense Hell or High Water, New Mexico stands in for Texas and the heist film stands in for a bleak present-day western.