"Hell or High Water": A new classic Western

Jeff Bridges and Alberto Parker in “Hell or High Water,” directed by David Mackenzie.

CBS Films

A new movie offers a different take on The Hollywood western. David Edelstein has our review:

“Hell or High Water” is the best movie I’ve seen all year -- all last year, too. It’s still haunting me, especially the last scene, a face-off, but not the kind you usually see in Westerns.

It’s not an Old West Western. It’s set in the present, and the West (here, West Texas) is a different place. There are still cowboys and Indians, except the Native Americans watch whites who took their land get their land taken by someone else -- the banks.

“Hell or High Water” has two protagonists: a robber and a ranger. Chris Pine plays the rancher who was upright all his life, but for reasons we don’t get until the last half-hour enlists his unstable ex-con brother (played by Ben Foster) in a scheme to get money fast.

Ben Foster and Chris Pine in “Hell or High Water.” CBS Films

They target branches of the Texas Midlands Bank in small towns separated by large deserts.

The other protagonist is the aging Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges. He doesn’t think the robbers are the usual meth-heads or sociopaths. But he knows that sooner or later someone will die, if only because he sees lots of ordinary Texans carrying guns, looking eager to use them.

In most Westerns, violence seems the only possible resolution. But in “Hell or High Water,” the terrific British director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have fashioned a great humanist Western: You know there will be blood and pray there won’t be, because it’s bound to be absurd and needlessly final. It’s finality that’s the true villain -- meaning actions that can’t be undone, bullets that can’t go back in the barrel.

The movie has a starkness, a terrible clarity that eats into your mind. It’s a new classic Western.

To watch a trailer for “Hell or High Water” click on the video player below.

HELL OR HIGH WATER - Texas - Trailer 2 - HD by CBSFilms on YouTube

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Edelstein also endorses: 

  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Florence Foster Jenkins” 
  • “Little Men”

More from David Edelstein: