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‘Hell or High Water’ review: Ben Foster gives electrifying performance

Ben Foster and Chris Pine in the movie

Ben Foster and Chris Pine in the movie "Hell Or High Water." Photo Credit: TNS / CBS Films

PLOT As vengeance for a foreclosure, two brothers rob branches of the offending bank until they cross paths with the Texas Rangers.

CAST Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges

RATED R (some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality)


PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington

BOTTOM LINE Powerful modern-day Western

Director David McKenzie’s post-recession Western plays like a Johnny Cash song come to life. All the adventures and angst of the good bad guys that Cash sang about are on screen, in this tale of men fighting for prosperity in a world that’s no longer made for them.

The film centers on parallel pairs — bank-robbing brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), and the Texas Rangers on their tail, Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Both are odd couples, volleying nuggets of folksy, genial wisecracks back and forth, on an ambling collision course toward violence and blood. But they agree on a common enemy: Texas Midlands Bank.

Toby has enlisted his fresh-out-of-the-clink brother, Tanner, for a mission that’s two parts desperation, one part revenge. He brings the motivation and moral compass while Tanner brings his wild, adrenaline-ravaged energy and the gumption to pull off these heists. Foster is electrifying as Tanner, disappearing into the role with a few extra pounds and a pair of wraparound sunglasses.

The brothers stick up banks and launder money in Comanche casinos in order to pay off the lien on their family ranch, and the Rangers wait patiently to collar their perps. It’s a story of cowboys and Indians and bank robbers and shootouts, hewing closely to the iconography and conventions of the Western, which has traditionally allowed us to grapple with contemporary events through a historical filter. But this Western eschews allegory for direct confrontation with the issues of the day — foreclosure, poverty, crime, gun violence. This Western offers not a filter but a frame through which to see the financial effects on small-town America.

Like many Westerns, women exist at the edges of the story, though their presence looms large. But this is a film about men, and the state of masculinity in a world that has made providing for a family, and lifting yourself out of poverty nearly impossible. The result is a dusty, blood-soaked myth of crime and punishment far from fantasy, a finger planted on the pulse — and the trigger.

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