Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hell or High Water

1.5/4

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

Rated R for Some Strong Violence, Language Throughout, and Brief Sexuality

"Hell or High Water" is so laid back that it's comatose.  There's nothing wrong with low-key thrillers (I've liked more than a few of them), but those movies had real screenplays, strong direction and most importantly, a deliberate pace.  "Hell or High Water" makes a pass at all three requirements, but achieves none of them.

Toby Howard (Pine) robs banks with his wild card, ex-con brother Tanner (Foster).  The two of them have a foolproof plan to get away with it, which impresses the lawman on their tale, a laid-back Texan named Marcus Hamilton (Bridges).  Still, it's only a matter of time before Marcus catches up with them.

I recently watched "Heat" again, and it's obvious that director David Mackenzie has used that for inspiration (that and the underrated "Set it Off").  But while the inspiration is obvious, none of the beauty, intelligence or energy from those earlier pictures has made it into his film.  This is as dull as they come.  While I was watching it (and doing my best not to fall asleep), I thought of "The Rover," that wretched Australian thriller from a few years back.  It's not as pretentious as that film, but that I was reminded of it is reason enough to stay away.

The only thing that keeps this movie even remotely watchable is that Mackenzie hired three of  the best actors working today to star in it.  Jeff Bridges is a living legend (even if he speaks like he just got a tongue stud and his tongue is severely swollen), and Chris Pine and Ben Foster are consistently underrated (Pine was brilliant in "Carriers" and "Confession" while Foster is a chameleon who was denied an Oscar nomination for "The Messenger," an award he should have won).  They do the best they can, but the script is so empty of material that there's little that any of them can do.

To be fair to the film, there is some low-key humor that works.  The barbs that Marcus throws at his half-Indian and half-Mexican (and fully Catholic) partner Alberto (Birmingham) are amusing, as are some of his one-liners about evangelists.  And the climax is, if nothing else, one long rip into the open carry laws.  The NRA will never live this one down.

If this sounds like I'm in any way endorsing this movie, I assure you, I am not.

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