Hell or High Water, a B movie western to savour.

Hell or High Water.

Hell or High Water.

One of the rea­sons that film mak­ers enjoy mak­ing genre films is that it allows them to use the pre-exist­ing struc­ture as a means of com­ment­ing sur­rep­ti­tious­ly on the present. Instead of ask­ing the audi­ence to sit through a social issues film with all that that implies, they get to see a west­ern or a sci-fi film. And the themes that the film mak­ers are real­ly inter­est­ed in are slipped in via the back door.

Hell and High Water is the ninth film direct­ed by Scot­tish film mak­er David Macken­zie and is effec­tive­ly a B movie west­ern set in mod­ern day Texas. A cou­ple of broth­ers embark on a spate of low-end bank rob­beries and are pur­sued by the griz­zled sher­iff and his weary sidekick.

Chris Pine and Ben

Chris Pine and Ben Foster.

The broth­ers are played by Chris Pine and Ben Fos­ter, with the for­mer as the sen­si­ble, strong but silent one who calls in des­per­a­tion on the help of his loose can­non of a broth­er, who’s just got out of gaol, to help him with the plan that he’s hatched.

Whilst Jeff Bridges, as the sher­iff, gives us a glee­ful­ly prick­ly cur­mud­geon, who par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoys the racial points he scores at the expense of his long-suf­fer­ing side­kick, the sto­ic Gil Birm­ing­ham.

Two decidedly bad seeds.

Two decid­ed­ly bad seeds.

What ele­vates the film, at least for the first hour or so, is the script. Writ­ten by Tay­lor Sheri­dan, it’s based on an orig­i­nal sto­ry by Nick Cave and War­ren Ellis, and their haunt­ing score is the first thing that gives the film an added sheen.

Then there’s the fact that the back­drop against which the rob­beries take place gives the film a decid­ed­ly murky moral hue. Because the broth­ers are only rob­bing the branch­es of the bank that has used the finan­cial crash of 2008 to force them out of their fam­i­ly home – a crash of course that was caused by the banks in the first place

And most of all, the script pro­duces a series of deft one lin­ers that are deliv­ered with the kind of insou­ciance per­fect­ly in keep­ing with the very Tex­an feel of the film.

Still the dude.

Still the dude.

Inevitably, once things turn vio­lent the film has to take sides, and that moral ambiva­lence is sac­ri­ficed. But for the first hour or so, it’s all impres­sive­ly dark and sur­pris­ing­ly nuanced. And even after that, the per­for­mances are so strong that you find your­self hap­pi­ly going along for the ride. It’s the sort of film that Sam Fuller or Fritz Lang used to pro­duce when the stu­dio that had hired them weren’t real­ly pay­ing atten­tion. A clas­sic B movie then, but a clas­sic all the same. You can see the trail­er for Hell or High Water here. And there’s a moody video for the Cave Ellis track Comancheria here.

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