There’s a theory that there are no original stories left, only new ways to tell them. That’s definitely the case for Hell or High Water, David Mackenzie’s attempt to subvert the well worn cops-and-robbers story, and it’s to his credit that he nearly succeeds.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster’s bankrobber brothers are focussing on branches of a particular rural Texas bank, for reasons that are teased out, while Jeff Bridges’ pursuing sheriff is on his last case before retirement.
Bridges, Pine and Foster’s names are on the poster, but the big empty spaces of Texas deserve equal billing. Baking heat, quiet streets and omnipresent clicking crickets provide a constant, cloying atmosphere. Mackenzie flushes his powerless vs powerful story with lingering shots of For Sale signs on properties, barriered up shops, and deserted towns. And his careful, slow-and-steady style gives the film’s rare moments of violence a visceral punch.
But excellent performances, writing and sense of space can’t elevate Hell Or High Water above its cliche roots. Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) get the most from their setting and actors, but a sense of predictability is inescapable. Hopefully their next collaboration will be in service of a more original story.