The film’s quiet greatness is way more potent upon rewatch. So much to chew on here. The slow-burning sense of the inevitable that looms over everything is really something. It’s not exactly dread, it’s sadder than that, more human. There are car chases, bank robberies and shoot-outs yet it never strays from being a tragic character study first and foremost. Between the bullets and balaclavas you get scenes with surly waitresses, siren-esque prostitutes and endless other periphery characters who are extremely shaded in. The whole film feels lived in and carefully realised.
The western sensibility is thrillingly modernised (check out the vaping Texas Ranger) but the storytelling is suitably classicist. I really enjoy the laser-focus of following two pairs of brothers – one literal, one metaphorical – separated by age and geography and having them both creeping towards the same destination. The endless, conversational musings on mortality, fate and paying your dues could easily feel heavy-handed but screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and director David Mackenzie make them work. The mythic western backdrop helps, as do the performances. Chris Pine has never been better and while we’ve seen Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster operate in slight variations of their modes here, they are both supremely captivating and pitch-perfect. Pine reminded me of a young Bridges during this revisit, and to see them both share the screen in the film’s final scene – dressed in matching shades no less – I doubt this was a mere happy accident but rather a crucial part of the film’s design.
Hell or High Water is cowboy poetry. It’s a terrific meditation on brotherhood, the Old West vs. the New West and, as far as modern existential westerns go, it is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had recently. Even better the second time around and I can’t wait for round three.