A Story Rich in Irony about Lean Men in Lean Times: Hell or High Water

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The setting, characters and storyline for Hell or High Water directed by David MacKenzie (Starred Up) and written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) make for a otherwise superb film.  It is a film where the viewer can easily become attached to good guys and bad guys.  Who is ultimately to be viewed as the good and bad is left to the viewer.  Regardless, the viewer understands the position and plight for all involved.

The magic of Hell or High Water is the richness by which every character’s role is presented – small or large.  Each seems to possess and reveal life’s contradictions.  Be it a bank teller who speaks her mind, a waitress who challenges the law, a lawyer helping ensure a plan is executed to perfection and completed with an exclamation point, or a lawman pretending to be an old-coot racist when his heart is really 180 degrees the other way.

In present day West Texas, the have-nots look tired from the day at-hand and life in general. While the have-nots of West Texas are not overtly complaining about their apparent hopelessness they do look to be trying to figure out how to tread-water until their time on earth runs out.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is one of the have-nots.  He too has wasted away into something of which he is not necessarily proud.  By nature Toby is a gentle person and considerate of others. He has never committed a crime or is a violent person. However, Toby cannot find steady work, is divorced, behind in child-support payments and about to lose his family’s property via a reverse-mortgage scam given his mother’s recent passing – for which he was her care-giver.  Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is Toby’s older brother.  Tanner stands in about the same spot, but arrived at it through violence and prison time.

Toby has asked his brother to assist him in a plan to square things for his children.  Toby has carefully thought this plan through and Tanner – who will do anything for his brother – knows exactly how to execute it.

The execution of the plan forces the introduction of Texas Rangers into the storyline. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) are the team to apprehend the perpetrators.  This case is Hamilton’s last gig, and he wants to finish his career on a good note.

Thus begins the cat and mouse game between the Texas Rangers and the Howard Brothers.  Hell or High Water executes on all cylinders through to competition.  There is no Hollywood ending in Hell or High Water. Simply one that is very interesting.

Jeff’s Worthless Trivia

The look of the Cowboy and Cow Poke.

In the middle of last century, Hollywood’s version of Cowboys and Cow Pokes from the Old West feature men who are shorter and prettier than the women. Alan Ladd in Shane (1953) Montgomery Cliff in Red River (1948) best come to mind.  Terrific actors, damn handsome, and wearing the best cowboy outfit the Costume Department can produce. A few decades later, Hollywood’s version of present day Cowboys and Cow Pokes were taller, buff, full bodied and often shirtless – think Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.  Chris Pine as Toby Howard is lean, really lean and scruffy.  If you did not know otherwise you would think he was from West Texas.

Location, Location, Location.

Although set in West Texas, principle filming for Hell or High Water was in eastern New Mexico – Clovis, Portales, and Tucumcari.  I have spent a fare amount of time in this region.  The TV Series of the 1950’s Rawhide used similar locations.

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