Chris Pine proves he can act. Ben Foster, well, he always could. And Jeff Bridges shows them both how it’s done. Those are just three riveting reasons to pony up for Hell or High Water. Hot damn, this one’s a goodie — a mesmerizing, modern-day western that moves with the coiled intensity of a rattlesnake ready to spring. Set in West Texas, like No Country for Old Men, this fierce and funny hellraiser takes turns into areas where there’s no moral compass.
Tightly directed by David Mackenzie (Starred Up), from a dynamite script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), the movie starts with the first in a series of bank robberies. Two men in masks: Toby (Pine) is focused; Tanner (Foster), a recent parolee, not so much. They’re brothers, and the movies heroes — the villains are bankers ready to foreclose on the boys’ farm. It’s a sweet irony, paying back fiduciary thieves with their own money and laundering the cash at casinos run by Indians, who also know what’s like to be screwed.
Enter Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges, in True Grit mode, is a cagey wonder), who comes up with a canny plan for their capture. He spends a lot of time razzing his deputy Alberto (the excellent Gil Birmingham) about his Indian-Mexican heritage. But the old-coot lawman is well versed in the art of the scam. The Bridges scenes with Pine have a teasing humor imbued with subtle threat. This is in sharp contrast to the electrifying Foster, who shoots for the fences as the wild-card brother.
That Pine can hold his own with these two pros suggests a promising acting future ahead for Captain Kirk. These exceptional performances lift the bar on a film that expertly mixes jolts of violence with social awareness and a sense of life lived on the edge. Don’t make it a question of if you should see Hell or High Water; make it a question of how soon. It’s that special.