Hell or High Water | Review

The phrase “come hell or high water” generally means “do whatever needs to be done, no matter the circumstances.” It also refers to the “hell or high water clause,” which is a clause in a contract, usually a lease, which provides that the payments must continue irrespective of any difficulties which the paying party may encounter. Both definitions are the motive and modus operandi of the two brothers in HELL OR HIGH WATER. HELL OR HIGH WATER is at the end of its cinematic release and will be releasing on DVD, Blu Ray and Digital on February 8th 2017. It releases from Madman Films, is rated MA15+ and runs for 102mins.



Two brothers, Toby and Tanner, are stuck in a hell or high water clause. Due to a medical tragedy the boys will lose their family farm if they cannot make payments to the bank. Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are complete opposites in life. Toby is mild mannered but has struggled through life. His wife has left him and his son is distant. He doesn’t want to be that father cliche. Tanner (Ben Foster) is a crazy unpredictable man who loves his brother. He killed his dad and has spent a fair bit of time in prison. Tanner would do anything for family, well excluding his father, and agrees to a plan from Toby to rob the very banks that are threatening to take the family farm. Then make their repayments to the same banks with the money.

And so they begin a crusade of bank robberies in the small towns of Texas, all the same small towns that have been decimated by the very banks in question. It is not the small town folk who are to blame for the allowed rules of the large corporations. They are standard and small time robbers, only the notes in the draws, nothing that will involve  high attention, and no one gets hurt. Just enough to meet what is required to own their family farm.

Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are the state troopers who have decided to take the last case and hunt them down before Marcus retires.


Hell or High Water Movie image



HELL OR HIGH WATER is one of the cinematic masterpieces of 2016. It’s a modern day Western, a showdown that is shrouded in a melancholic determination from the Howard brothers. It is bleak, it is slow moving and it is incredibly powerful with a message that is incredibly true to the times. The Howard brothers are basically saying a big bad fuck you to the banks and I wholeheartedly support them as long as no one gets hurt. Nice work on that one Tanner!

It’s easy seeing this as a masterpiece, it is directed by David Mackenzie, a man on my will watch anything from him list. His last piece of cinematic art was the brutal and superb STARRED UP, a movie I truly worship. Mackenzie has a perfect partner in this movie with the story being penned from SICARIO scribe Taylor Sheridan. The combination of these two is a work of genius and I pray we see more from them working together.


Rounding out the dream team is a group of master craftsmen. First is art director, Steve Cooper (THE EMPRE STRIKES BACK, LONE SURVIVOR), who gives us a subtle orange tinted hot-as-hell dusty setting. The film literally oozes Texas heatwave. The old, nearly soulless, towns are characters themselves, adding to the melancholic tone of the movie. Second is cinematographer Giles Nuttgens who is now completely forgiven for being part of the crew for BATTLEFIELD EARTH. The pairing of the art direction with the cinematography is stunning.

Finally is a musical duo who ALWAYS elevate a movie to greatness when they are involved, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Ellis only works solely with Cave when he is doing movie music. Their score for HELL OR HIGH WATER is chilling. It echoes lost causes and desolation. I have listened to the soundtrack a few times in the last couple of weeks while catching up on all my movie reviews. Superb.


Hell or High Water Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham) image



And with this crew being so good, it makes it easy for the cast, especially a cast as bloody amazing as this one.

Big call for me but this is easily Chris Pine’s best performance. I love him in anything, I got to meet him once and can say I actually love him haha. In this he isn’t playing the comedic goose that comes through in the end a la STAR TREK or THIS MEANS WAR. He has done plenty of serious roles, Z FOR ZACHARIAH or THE FINEST HOURS but in this he underplays it so well he unlocks the next level of acting. Bravo.

Usually it is Ben Foster who steals every scene when he is in a movie but in this they are ying and yang and they work perfectly as brothers. Foster is a master actor when it comes to unpredictable crazy and it shines through in this but like Pine it is softly played and never over the top, perfectly matching the movies’ theme.

On the other side of the law is a pairing a little more yang than ying. State Trooper Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Parker are as far from similarity as one gets but they are a brilliant and somewhat comical partnership. Jeff Bridges steals the movie in HELL OR HIGH WATER. He pulls out his gruff Western persona again and this time nails it, every scene he is in is just mesmerising. He is such an incredible character that deserves an entire movie about him. Gil Birmingham brings it to the table as his partner but is outshone by one of the greatest of my generation.


Hell or High Water Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) image



HELL OR HIGH WATER is one of those rarities when all the elements come together to make cinematic perfection. Every frame is flawless. It is as if this is Michael Mann’s HEAT from another, Western, universe, the same inevitability and story arc with one wicked shootout. I applaud this movie and award a perfect five.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.