|'Mackenzie is for much of the second act perfectly happy to play the long game, allowing little to happen in terms of plot in order that his characters can grow into the film'.|
A cat-and-mouse thriller between an unlikely criminal and a world-weary lawman nearing the end of his career played out against the stark backdrop of West Texas, Hell Or High Water regularly invites comparison to the Coen Brothers' 2008 Best Picture Oscar winner No Country For Old Men. There are even moments here, such as a conversation between Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) and a surly diner waitress (Margaret Bowman), which feel as though they could be plucked straight out of Joel and Ethan's back catalogue.
Between them, however, director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan - who also penned last year's excellent Sicario - make their film a far more understated affair than most Coen offerings. After a relatively action-packed opening section, Mackenzie is for much of the second act perfectly happy to play the long game, allowing little to happen in terms of plot in order that his characters can grow into the film. It's a decision which results in a narrative so slow-moving during its middle section that at times it almost grinds to a halt completely; but which in the end pays dividends for Mackenzie's film overall. When the closing act does eventually arrive, Mackenzie at last allows the tension and emotion he has deliberately built up to spill over in captivating fashion.
Bridges as the grisled Marcus is the player most likely to garner critical attention, but this is admittedly the kind of role tailor-made for the veteran at this point in his career. Whilst he is indeed superb, Bridges is also surrounded by excellent performances throughout. Birmingham as his stoical half-Native-American half-Mexican partner Alberto provides the perfect counterpoint to Marcus' old school perspective, and together the two actors display a chemistry so subtle that it takes the entirety of the film to appreciate just how well it works.
On the other side of the law are Chris Pine and Ben Foster as bank-robbing brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, whose relationship offers a neat balance against the two lawmen pursuing them. Each has his own motives for the choices they make together which steadily come into focus as the film progresses. Tanner is arguably the less complex of the two, but the impressive performance from Foster means that this rarely becomes an issue. Pine, meanwhile, is a revelation both mature and understated from start to finish. Whilst the actor has previously shown promise outside of the franchise fare upon which he's made his name, there's a strong sense that Hell Or High Water will be the film which marks Pine as having fully graduated from the forgettable rom-coms he was making a decade or so earlier.