Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hell or High Water

(David Mackenzie, USA, 2016)

At its best, Mackenzie's potboiler is a competent crime movie, awkwardly accessorized with some social commentary.  Sure, Jeff Bridges is a gas, as he always is.  But the script, by Taylor Sheridan, remains mostly paint-by-numbers.  It has just the right amount of local flavor, but plot-and-character-wise, it hardly rises above the schematic.  And there's simply too much would-be open range poetry, all of it taken straight from the book of hardscrabble Western cliché.  Hard lives, desolate wide-open spaces, tough men with big hearts, family loyalty - the whole thing is strictly ersatz.  The action scenes have a certain pop to them, and it is undeniably handsome (although rarely beautiful) but it only begins to develop real narrative interest towards the very end.   Even by its conventional standards, the first two thirds of the film - maybe even the first three quarters, lack decisive momentum.  By the time of the finale, we have a better sense of the depth of the characters, what they might desire and pursue.  But then the film abruptly stops.  Thus, the political aspect of the film takes a backseat to the procedural elements of plot.  This wouldn't be such a big deal, except that a large portion of the praise this film has garnered has to do with its sociological relevance, its story of noble-but-flawed men trying to resist the predations of the banksters.  Unfortunately, the makers of this film don't provide a compelling portrait of the psychological costs of such predation.  The faux-seriousness of Hell or High Water is its undoing, marring a passable heist film with unearned gravitas.  

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