I think I’m alone on this one.
Hell or High Water is one of the highest rated films of the year. A 99% on RottenTomatoes, an “88” on Metacritic, pretty much everyone likes this movie. But not me. As always with this kind of situation, (see my reviews of Room and Love & Friendship) I ask myself if I’m in the wrong. Do I just not get it? Am I too young at the age of 15 to “understand” it? Critics didn’t like Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey when they came out. Am I going to be one of them? Will I overlook a masterpiece? In this case, I don’t think so. And while I may be committing some form of heresy, I think this movie has legitimate problems that most are overlooking.
Hell or High Water is about two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) who go on a spree of bank robberies. Toby does it to save a family farm from foreclosure, hoping to let his children live a better life. Tanner does it for the hell of it. Meanwhile, they are pursued by Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto, (Gil Birmingham) two Texas Rangers who are close on their tail.
Hell or High Water certainly has good aspects to it. There’s good performances all around. There are great scenes that are intense and suspenseful, and they manage to capture a feeling of unknowing; you don’t know who’s gonna die. It’s hard to do that, and I especially appreciate it in the superhero age where no one can stay dead or even be close to death. There’s some good banter, particularly between Marcus and Alberto.
But for me, all the good here is overshadowed by one key thing:Toby, and how one-dimensional he is.
The first time we see Toby he is robbing a bank, but I like him from the start. For one, he doesn’t want any unnecessary death, emphasized through David Mackenzie’s close-up direction; while Tanner threatens a lady with a gun to her head, Toby tells him to calm down. And from there, this dude is one of the least cynical people I’ve ever seen. His entire reasoning for doing this is to get his kids and ex-wife into a house that he won’t even get to live in. I would be fine with that if there was something I didn’t like about him, but there’s not a single thing. He robs, but for the right reason. Making someone a robber but for a good reason doesn’t make someone three-dimensional. And while some people like the character who has no unlikable qualities, for me it gives a film no depth, no purpose. The best characters are the ones who are not good and not evil; Toby is good in every sense of the word, and that’s the big problem here.
The other thing about Hell or High Water is that it has a sense of “action movie” to it despite the somewhat original concept. There are moments in the film with soft piano playing in the background that unintentionally made me laugh. The movie has accidental jumpcuts which always took me out of the film.
The direction felt kind of bland; it never truly felt “cinematic,” that feeling of euphoria that you get when you’ve watched watching incredible visually. I was surprised the film was only 102 minutes long because it felt like I was in that theater for two-and-a-half hours.
It’s a shame; this is a good idea which wasn’t executed well. But that’s just me. And I literally mean just me.