Hell and High Water – Film Review and Analysis

Somehow, viewers find themselves cheering for two bank-robbing brothers during this refreshing, modern day Texan story. Driven into debt by the reverse mortgage taxes of America’s 2007 economy crash, Hell and High Water‘s protagonists must rob to pay off their momma’s ranch. If you don’t mind coarse language, watch in disbelief as good guys Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go rogue right past the cops’ noses. This action/ drama/thriller is one that touches on imperialist trends of history, greed of banks and the blurry line of true good and evil. It is also one with several artistic choices, from director David McKenzie, hidden and crafted in the movies’ scenes. Below, are some that I noticed–which means if you don’t want spoilers, do not read past this point.

By far, my favourite scene is the silhouettes of the brothers horsing around in the sunset. It is initially a sweet, heartwarming moment, however, the viewer later realizes this scene is ominous and foreshadowing oncoming deaths. Tanner for example, tires from fooling around when the sun sets and leaves his brother out in the field to get some rest. These events resemble the later scene where Tanner separates from Toby to mislead the police into chasing himself so Toby can escape with the money. Just as Tanner stopped playing and left Toby when the darkness of the sunset came, he stops his days of bank robbing when the shadowing police draw near, kill him and leave Toby alone in the field of life. Likewise, the scene cuts to Officer Alberto, walking in darkness, leaving his coworker, Officer Marcus to sleep in the hotel. Just as he walks into twilight’s darkness in this scene, he will soon be murdered and literally walk into the darkness of death for eternal rest.

Director McKenzie also takes a creative approach to the western genre’s cliche theme of cowboys and Indians. This is shown through the colloquial relationship of white Officer Marcus and the “Indian”/Mexican Officer Alberto. Rather than starting race based blood battles, like you see in other westerns, these friends duel instead by playfully teasing and stereotyping each other. The milder relationship of this white vs Indian duo maintains the classical cowboy vs. Indian theme but also allows for the director’s satire of this type of culture. For example, in a hotel scene, Officer Marcus taunts Alberto that he should be drinking on some reserve instead of trying to fall asleep; this is all while Officer Marcus, alone, is downing a 6-pack of beers. The director is using this relationship to critique the offensive and sometimes inaccurate racial stereotypes we perpetuate as a culture. In the same scene, a portrait depicting a glorified cowboy has strategically been placed directly above Alberto’s hotel bed. This could represent the power and status above Native “Indians” that Europeans like Columbus assumed upon their arrival to America. The dialogue and relationship between these two educates viewers on the errors in our imperialist history and stereotypes. However, their strong friendship over the years also reinforces the positive idea of  loving others despite historical and racial barriers.

Speaking of Marcus and Alberto’s dialogue, one prominent artistic choice happened during their last peaceful conversation. “This is what they call white man’s intuition,” Marcus exclaims in gest when he successfully predicts the next target of our bank robbing protagonists. “Yeah, yeah, blind man gets the truffle,” is the reply of Alberto, soon to be shot in the eye. This is deliberate seeing as of all the places someone can be shot–leg, abdomen, chest, back– I’ve never seen anyone hit in the eye. I wonder why the director made this choice?

No matter what the reason, Hell and High Water was a heartwarming yet satirical story exploring the lines we will cross we for survival and those we love. I rate it 3.8/5 stars and believe it’s deep, well thought out films like this that we need more of in the industry. Have you seen this movie? Let me know what you thought in the comments.


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