Movie Monday: Hell or High Water


Here’s a great movie that you should plan to see.

The piece is set in West Texas, where the effects of the Great Recession are evident in shabby homesteads, lean ranches and multiple roadside signs offering payday loans.

Two brothers, one a paroled felon and the other a divorced father of two sons, concoct and carry out a well-planned series of small bank heists to save the family ranch. The robberies are inconsequential to the FBI, but they do catch the attention of a pair of Texas Rangers, one about to retire and the other his patient, long-suffering colleague of Native American and Mexican background.

Three of the main roles are beautifully rendered by rising actors whom we will be seeing more and more often. The fourth, Jeff Bridges as the Ranger whose career is ending, is a graceful, fully realized character who is a delight to watch.

There are several nicely done small performances — waitresses and small-town Texans — but the story belongs to the two brothers and the two brothers in law enforcement.

The tight and careful script lays out all the men’s personalities, including their flaws. Their resulting behavior leads to a predictable conclusion that is followed by a coda that leaves a final issue up for resolution.

The movie is about desperate measures in desperate times. It refers to the bank heists of the also-desperate Depression days, and it deliberately contrasts the broad discouragement of the moment with the noble frontier of old Western movies.

The cinematography is excellent, and the music underscores the theme of a 150-year-old way of life that is ending. (It does not go unmentioned that Native Americans had been similarly displaced from their centuries-old settlements by the now-dispossessed settlers’ ancestors.)

Overall, an excellent piece of work. Definitely worth a watch.
On the Other Hand

While the personal characterizations in this movie are great and the tensions among them arise organically, the story has some gaping external holes. A few: the need for cash when another, obvious source is in plain sight; the means used to launder the stolen cash into a cashier’s check; the offer of drilling profits in an economy where slumping oil prices have depressed demand for drilling; the demonization of small bank executives for problems caused by parched pastures and low oil prices, and the adoption of oil drilling when the proposal today might as easily have been for politically unpopular fracking. There are others.

My point is not to quibble. These are small matters compared with the Swiss cheese constructions of most popular movies now.


Why the Slow Rollout?

Sometimes I think film producers and theater owners don’t give American audiences much credit. Last weekend was HoHW’s third in a very leisurely national rollout — 909 screens when the much-panned eight-week-old “Suicide Squad” was still playing to smaller audiences at well over four times as many locations.

There is talk of people losing interest in seeing films in theaters, and HoHW has been mentioned as the best picture so far in 2016 by more than a few professional movie critics. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is 99/100.

Under the circumstances, you’d think theaters might free up a few screens here and there for something besides children’s cartoons and adolescent superhero fantasies.

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