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Film review: Hell or High Water – characters, not carnage, key in Oscar-nominated heist thriller

With Jeff Bridges in top form, Chris Pine dropping his hero act and Foster convincing as a reckless robber, Scottish director David Mackenzie’s subtle hand delivers a ’70s throwback

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 4:00pm

4/5 stars

A sleeper hit in the US last year, Hell or High Water arrives with an impressive pedigree and four Oscar nominations, including best picture, at the recent Academy Awards. The script is the brainchild of Taylor Sheridan, who previously penned the brooding narcotics drama Sicario . Similarly, this tale of cops and crooks feels rooted in the real world.

Set in sweltering West Texas, the backdrop is the recession-hit rust belt, unpaid mortgages and banks foreclosing on homes. The story sees two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and ex-con Tanner (Ben Foster), embark on a bank-robbing spree across the state. Toby has economic reasons for the crimes that become clear as the plot unfolds, but Tanner is simply wild and reckless.

In pursuit are two Texas Rangers, Jeff Bridges’ soon-to-retire veteran Marcus Hamilton and his younger partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Their camaraderie is one of the film’s highlights, the relationship beautifully set up, with Bridges the best he’s been in years.

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Behind the camera is David Mackenzie, the Scottish filmmaker behind Young Adam and Starred Up, who brings with him an impressive understanding of place (despite the film shot in New Mexico, rather than Texas). This is subtly directed, an atmospheric throwback to 1970s thrillers when characters, not carnage, were important.

Pine drops the clean-cut, square-jawed hero act that he’s so far peddled, while Foster does a pretty mean impression of a man who looks like he’s spent a week living in a gutter. It’s a dirty, sweaty, violent, tragic tale, but vigorously realised.

Hell or High Water opens on April 6

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