Friday, September 2, 2016

Hell or High Water Review

The summer season in Hollywood is now officially over. To put it nicely, this was a very average summer for me. We had a lot of straight-up bad movies (WarcraftNine Lives, Ben-Hur, Free State of Jones, Independence Day: Resurgence, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Angry Birds Movie, Money Monster, The Secret Life of Pets), even more average movies (X-Men: Apocalypse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Conjuring 2, Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, The BFG), and plenty of good movies that should've been much better (Jason Bourne, Suicide Squad). I wanted to love all of these, but the movies that actually blew me away were few and far between. Even the sequels that I did love weren't quite to the level of of their phenomenal predecessors (Captain America: Civil War, Now You See Me 2, Finding Dory).  Despite all this, I always say that if the big movies are disappointing you, go find a smaller one. My top two movies of the summer were the should've been blockbusters Kubo and the Two Strings and The Nice Guys. Close behind them were a handful of indies (Sing Street, The Lobster, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). Now we're going to add another one to that. Hell or High Water. This movie is absolutely phenomenal.

The most recent movie that I reviewed was the horror/thriller Don't Breathe. There's a couple of reasons to bring this movie up when talking about Hell or High Water. The first reason is that both movies are a bit ambiguous when trying to label them with one specific genre. After seeing Don't Breathe, I got into a conversation with a random YouTuber that was adamant that Don't Breathe wasn't a horror movie. I would consider it a horror movie, especially since I was more terrified during that movie than I was during most other horrors that I've seen recently. But does it really matter what you call it? And do you really have to limit a movie to just one genre? Don't Breathe is a horror and a thriller. But more importantly, it's a movie. And a good movie at that. Same goes with Hell or High Water. I was sitting there watching this movie and was trying to think of what genre it was. Was it a crime drama? Was it an action movie? Does it count as a western? It's certainly a heist movie, but do heist movies get their own genre or are they more of a sub-genre to something else? My conclusion? Eh. Who cares. Hell or High Water is a film. And a dang good film. Speaking of which, perhaps later we can discuss movie vs. film. Are they the same thing or different? For now we will move on.

What definitely existed during this movie was a whole lot of nostalgia, if that's the right word. This whole movie takes place in the barren wastelands of West Texas. I loved it! That's where I spent two years of my life from 2008 to 2010, so the setting of the movie took me on a trip down memory. I haven't been back to Texas since I left over six years ago, but I really want to go back. This movie allowed me to do so for about two hours and that made me happy. But was the movie actually filmed in West Texas? I spent the whole movie curious about that. The credits answered that question. "Filmed on location in New Mexico." Oh. Well, same thing. Technically during my two year stay in that area, 17 months were in West Texas and 7 months were in East New Mexico. Some internet research informed me that at least some of the filming took place is Clovis, New Mexico, which is close to where I was. It's all flat, dry, and ugly. I love it! Going back to the genre thing, this setting helped make this feel like a modern-day western. It's the perfect setting for that. Then you had a lot of similar elements in this movie to older classic westerns even if they weren't specifically cowboys riding horses in the old west having gun showdowns and all that fun jazz that we all love about westerns. It was the modern-day parallel to all of that and it was a ton of fun.

The other reason to bring up Don't Breathe is that both movies were essentially heist movies. Don't Breathe was a heist gone wrong that had three dumb kids trapped in a house with an old, blind psychopath. With that, I said in that review that a successful heist movie will toy with your moral compass. Crime is wrong. Robbing banks is awful. But if a heist movie can make you go against that moral logic by making you cheer for the heist to be a success, then it has done it's job. Don't Breathe succeeded in other areas that made me conclude that it was a good movie, but it failed on this heist aspect. I didn't care as much for these group of kids as I would've hoped and a part of me wanted them to suffer the consequences of trying to rob this old man of $300,000. Hell or High Water is a different story. This absolutely succeeds on the heist aspect. The story follows Chris Pine and Ben Foster playing two brothers going around robbing banks in order to get enough money to achieve a certain goal that I won't spoil. But you absolutely want them to succeed. These are two very-well fleshed out characters with great motivations that causes you to really care for them. Thus when I'm ranking heist movies, this stands it's ground with other great heist movies such as Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, and Fast Five. It was an absolutely fabulous ride.

On top of that, we also had the Rise of the Planet of the Apes conundrum here. In that movie you spend the whole time trying to figure out if you are on the side of the apes or on the side of the humans and you never really know who to root for. Some were frustrated with that. I wasn't. I love the fact that the movie did that to me and it's the same here. On the one hand, you have Ben Foster and Chris Pine robbing banks and you want them to succeed. On the other hand you have the legendary Jeff Bridges as our sheriff hunting them down in what may go down as one of Jeff Bridges' best roles yet. While you want Chris Pine and Ben Foster to succeed, you also definitely want Jeff Bridges to succeed as well because he is a total boss in this. There's no white and black here. No definitive good vs. evil. It's all very gray, which blew me away. What really sold this were the performances of these three actors. I may hate Chris Pine's Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies, but I do like Chris Pine and he gives the performance of his career in this movie. It's the best I've seen Chris Pine by a long shot. Same with Ben Foster. I won't claim it's Jeff Bridges best performance because he's done a lot of amazing things, but he's equally as good. All three of these men give Oscar-worthy performances and I hope they don't all get snubbed or else I'll be mad.

There's a lot of emotion in this movie. All the characters have great depth and great story arcs. The heist scenes are a lot of fun and are super intense, especially towards the end where this movie brings you to the edge or your seat, but I loved that the focus here was on the characters and the emotion. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Chris Pine is sitting down and talking to a younger individual who I believe is his nephew, but the exact relationship is irrelevant. If I have that wrong, don't shoot me. Point is the kid looks up to him and Chris Pine truly cares for him. But it's apparent that Chris Pine is ashamed of the example that he's set for this kid and this leads to a beautiful moment that really grabbed me. And there's several moments like that in this movie where it slows down and really tugs at your heartstrings with both sides of the spectrum. Thus when we get to our action sequences, there's a lot of weight to them. You are emotionally invested in everyone and you have no idea how this is going to turn out. All of this builds up to an incredible finale that is extremely intense that pays off in a huge way. Here we have a heist movie that in the end leaves us pondering many of the great mysteries of life in addition to making us stop and think about our own lives. Not even the best heist movies can successfully claim that they pulled this off.

Hell or High Water is one of the best reviewed movies of the year. It currently stands at 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with 140 reviews counted. It's also catching on at the box office as at the conclusion of the Labor Day weekend, it'll have close to $15 million in the bank following its fourth weekend of release, which is actually pretty solid for indie movie standards. I'm not one to just go with the flow. I've gone against the grain many times. But in this case, there's a reason why everyone who has seen this movie is raving about it. I've actually had some time to think about this movie as it's been about a week since I've seen it and it's one of those movies that gets better the more I think about it. Towards the beginning of this review I talked about all the different genres that this movie could fall under and the fact that it can be classified under so many genres is a strength that speaks to how well-rounded this movie is. It covers a little bit of everything along the way and thus is a fantastic ride. Oscar season is about to start and I really hope that this is a movie that catches on during awards season. If it gets ignored because it was released a little too early or didn't hit the festival rounds before getting released, that would be quite the shame. Regardless of what Oscar voters say, though, make sure you go out and treat yourself to this fantastic film. You'll be glad you did. I'm giving Hell or High Water a 9.5/10.

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