Texas is the setting for this clever, slow-paced drama, in which two brothers set about righting the wrongs done to their family. And what a dreary place Texas turns out to be. Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) cruise through its empty towns and dusty fields in one beaten-up car after another, all the while passing evidence of a modern-day recession. Businesses gone bust. Townsfolk in debt. Billboards featuring words like “Need a loan?” These signs all point to the focus of this story: the banks. Hell or High Water gives us a sort of sideways take on the 2008 financial scandal in which banks were blamed for the housing bubble. Here we see how the banks have a hold on ordinary people in Texas and bleed them dry through exorbitant interest rates and merciless calling in of loans. Contemporary Scrooges if you will.
The Howard brothers aim for Texas Midlands Bank and begin robbing several branches of small amounts at a time. They then cover their tracks before going back to the bank as “upright” citizens to pay off their debts. Because the characters are motivated by familial love the viewer definitely roots for the two robbers. In fact, the pair represent the attitudes of many of the ordinary folk who have struggled against generations of poverty, and have a strong antipathy towards these institutions.
A tired old law-enforcement officer, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), works out what the brothers are doing and patiently lays in wait for them, following them around the county to catch them.
The action and setting in Hell or High Water is suffocatingly slow at times. And the story could well be seen simply as an old one dressed in a new guise. But it’s clever. And the modern concerns, juxtaposed with flagrant racist insults, and genuinely struggling people make for absorbing and relevant viewing. Chris Pine and Ben Foster both present their characters with realism and believability.
Hell or High Water opens at cinemas in South Africa on 4 November 2016.