Hell or High Water review: The movie that’s saved summer 2016

The Jeff Bridges western outguns its blockbuster rivals.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water
Robbers on the run Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water. Image Picture StudioCanal

Hell or High Water
102 minutes (15)
★★★★★

If summer 2016 is remembered for anything by film fans, it’ll be its dearth of quality blockbusters.

Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were stinkers, Independence Day: Resurgence was a certified flop, Captain America: Civil War suddenly doesn’t look so great away from the deafening Marvel hype and Ghostbusters was torpedoed by a series of terrible cameos.

The big tentpole movies failed to deliver, but look beyond that and you’ll find some gems that may have passed you by. The Nice Guys was a dynamite 70s-set buddy movie, Blake Lively’s shark flick The Shallows was 90 minutes of pure thrills and Nicolas Winding Refn delivered the batsh*t crazy Neon Demon.

Beating them all, though, is Hell or High Water. Directed by Starred Up’s David Mackenzie and written by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan, it’s a heist tale about two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) heading cross country robbing banks in a bid to save their Texas ranch from foreclosure.

Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water
Cowboy Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water. Image Picture StudioCanal

Hot on their heels is Jeff Bridges’ Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, a man winding up his last case as retirement approaches. He’s playing a version of his grizzled True Grit character, serving as the gruff cowboy chasing outlaws in a neo-western to rival No Country for Old Men.

Hell or High Water might not be high concept, but it’s a simple story told with clarity, conviction and put together with clockwork precision by director Mackenzie. Sheridan’s script crafts a compelling story and characters with depth and integrity. Pine’s straight-arrow Toby clashes with his wildcard brother Tanner, who’s served time inside and seemingly committing the robberies just for the thrill of it.

Tense car chases and full-blooded shoot-outs mean the film isn’t light on action, but it also packs hidden depth with its undercurrent of crippling financial recession and desperate men fighting big bad banks. Essentially, it’s a classic Bruce Springsteen song writ large on the big screen.

All this combined Hell or High Water one of the best film of 2016 so far. Proof, if ever it was needed, that you don’t need to special effects or massive budgets to make a great movie.

Watch the trailer for Hell or High Water (in cinemas on September 9) below:

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn