Have You Seen Hell or High Water Yet? It's a fantastic movie from the writer of Sicario. A fantastic film with elusive intent and ideas worth discussing.
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Have You Seen Hell or High Water Yet?
Oh man, have you seen Hell or High Water yet? No really? Man I only just got tipped off to the brilliance that is this movie by a buddy who was looking over the site and wondering if I was asleep or not. So yeah, if you haven’t seen it you definitely have to check it out.
But first, I have to get something off my chest. Sometimes folks wander through here and get all uptight that I am ruining movies. Bah. I am not a movie review site, I am a movie discussion site. I want to talk with you about the deep dive details of a movie and what it might mean. Existentially. Metaphysically. Literally. So, if you haven’t seen Hell or High Water yet… you’d do well to leave. I’ll give you a quick synopsis of the movie, and then a trailer, and everything below that will be spoiler material. Ok? So stop with the whining and complaining about me spoiling stuff. You spoiled the movie if you continued further below than this. So there.
Quick Overview of Hell or High Water
I adored this movie. If you are looking for an upside down, buddy, Texan, bank robbery flick, this is your movie. Wait. What? Ok, so if buddy bank robber flicks filmed exclusively in Texas isn’t your thing, I’m guessing you may still enjoy it all the same. To be honest, it reminder me more of Z for Zachariah than any of the other things Christ Pine has done so far. Which, I absolutely adored.
So what is this story about? Basically, two Texan brothers, Toby (Chris Pine), and Tanner (Ben Foster), get together to begin a spree of bank robberies. Why? What is their purpose? We have no real idea as the robberies begin. But we do realize they quickly find themselves in more serious trouble than they realize when they start getting tracked by Texas Ranger, Marcus (Jeff Bridges). Marcus too has a story and a hope to go out in a blaze of glory heading into the dark night of his retirement. This movie is obviously heading somewhere, and it’s most likely a showdown between the Rangers and the two brothers.
—- HERE BE DRAGONS —-
Ok? So from here on out I want to talk TO you about the film, and I want you to TALK BACK.
The movie is quick off the blocks. But we don’t have any idea of where it is going or more importantly why. The movie kicks off with Toby and Tanner heading into their first bank and it only seems to accelerate from there. Something is going on. Some other bigger purpose is happening here. Toby is on a mission for some purpose. And he has a bigger plan. But we don’t know exactly, well, we don’t exactly know anything now that I think about it.
The Backstory of Hell or High Water
Eventually we learn that since Tanner got out of prison and has reinserted himself into his family’s life… which he basically missed… he is willing to do whatever to help. The family got worked over by the bank that was full tilt on getting their money, but not very understanding when it came to the death of their mother. And so when Tanner arrived on the scene, Toby has a week to get enough money to pay off the loan on the house. 50 some odd thousand dollars is owed. And the bank doesn’t care anymore about excuses. But, why does Toby even care about the family farm? To us it looks like a dump. No idea.
Hell or High Water Bigger Picture
As we pan back we get introduced to two more characters that matter in this story. We meet Marcus, an almost retired Texas Ranger who is hell bent on the idea of going into retirement shooting in a blaze of glory. And his Indian partner Alberto, who catches all of Marcus’ racial bigotry and idiocy. The two of them seem to work well together, but more importantly, they are both intent on getting the bank robbers that are definitely on a tear, and definitely have an issue with Texas Midlands Bank. But why?
Local Banks As Bad Guys
It’s funny that in this movie we are given a local Texas bank as our bad guy. And there was no face for that bad guy at all. No mustachio twirling evil bank villain. Just some script that said that Toby’s mother had taken out a reverse mortgage against the property, “Just enough to keep your momma poor.”
So, somehow, the fact that this family has taken out a bad loan, and they couldn’t pay it back, means the bank is bad. Now, granted, sure, there were predatory loan sharks that would have been happy to give out loans that they shouldn’t have. But, um, on the face of it, I’m not too compassionate about people that take out loans and don’t pay them back. But ok. Alright. Let’s just roll with it. BIG BAD MEAN BANK TAKES OLD WOMAN’S MONEY. Fine.
Toby, our good son, is here to save the day. To right the wrong. And to figure this situation out. He’s decided that he and his brother Tanner are going to go all in on this mess and to fix it. So they start robbing banks at a prodigious rate. 50k is a lot of money after all. But, still, the question remains… WHY? Just let the bank foreclose on the dump and be done with it.
All Hail To the Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan
And this is where Taylor Sheridan has absolutely killed it. First, can I mention that Taylor (great name by the way) Sheridan doesn’t have a Rotten Tomatoes score below 89%? Come on. That’s unheard of. The other movie of his that has totally transfixed me was his Sicario. Which, if you haven’t checked it out yet, definitely do – and then swing by and add to the discussion afterwards.
But the reason this movie is so riveting is because he only tells you what you absolutely need to know at each individual moment. Which keeps you wondering from the beginning all the way to the end… what is happening here? Sicario was the same way. Just enough to string us along. And eventually we realize that Toby has somehow discovered that there is oil on the family’s land. And that he has wisely placed the land in a trust, that isn’t sellable. And he has given it to his sons. This is the driver that has caused Toby to act from day one. This is the motivator that has been alluding us.
Then Ending of Hell or High Water
Alright, so now that we know that Toby and Tanner have to get the check to the bank… wait for it… come hell or high water… by Friday afternoon, we now know all the pieces involved. And I really loved the nuance and the detail of how it all went down. The money laundering through the casinos. (Nevermind that doesn’t work, and that the casinos have to flag anything over 5k… but whatever.) The details around creating the trust there at Midlands. The payoff check and how all the bank knew was that they had won the money from a casino. And how they had the winnings made out to the bank’s name. Brilliant.
But when people die in Hollywood movies there is hell to pay. We have a logical system for how we are ok morally with that. And Tanner kills a man in point blank range. And so we have to settle that debt before this movie can settle out. Right? So Tanner agrees to lead the police on a mad dash and a chase. He then sets up a sniper nest on a bluff. Sends his car hurtling into the cops’ cars and proceeds to kill Alberto with a shot to his head. So with blood on his hands, Tanner is obviously going to die. And he does, at the hands of Marcus, his last hoorah before heads into the horizon.
But ostensibly, doesn’t Toby have blood on his hands as well? I mean, it was his plan after all? And that question consumes the last 10 minutes of the film when Marcus drives out to Toby’s place and has a little man to man conversation about the death of his partner and how he knows that Toby was involved. Involved in? What? Pantomimes Toby. And the movie ends with Toby ready to dispatch Marcus if he eventually wants to die. And with Marcus happy to send him to his grave as well if the day comes that he is ready to die.
And so the movie ends with two heroes both ready to die, both waiting for the other to make their move. It was a clever way to leave the momentum balanced and waiting for one more spark to set off the entire powder keg. But do you think that Marcus eventually tired of retirement and decided to avenge his partner? Or likewise, do you think that Toby ever gets tired of the weight of the deaths in the bank, and with the police, and eventually goes and finds Marcus to have that final dance? Love to hear your thoughts on the ending and the rest of the film. It really was a worth while movie… some of the best writing I’ve seen in a while.