As good as Jeff Bridges is in the excellent neo-western crime-drama Hell or High Water — and he is very good — Chris Pine is the one to watch. The film both completes a trifecta of great leading-man roles for him this year (the others being The Finest Hours and Star Trek Beyond) and reps perhaps his best effort yet to prove he can do more than personify young Captain Kirk.
Pine plays a divorced father in West Texas, where he and his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) start robbing branches of a fictional Texas bank in hopes of acquiring enough cash to save their ranch from foreclosure by the very bank they’re robbing. Texas Ranger Bridges, on the verge of retiring, and his partner (Gil Birmingham) catch the task of tracking them down.
The script by Taylor Sheridan (who also penned Sicario) presents a number of familiar themes — family, brotherhood, Texas, sacrifice, a way of life that is fast disappearing — that Starred Up director David Mackenzie mixes together in a very organic, very satisfying way as he culminates Bridges and Birmingham’s chase of Pine and Foster in a nicely done blood ‘n’ guns stand-off.
As well the four leads slide into their characters so effortlessly that you really do believe they’re the people they’re playing. Bridges, of course, makes it look incredibly easy, affecting a convincing Texas drawl and displaying his Ranger’s still-sharp intellect as he finesses clues out of witnesses and casually, and amusingly, lobs racial barbs at Birmingham with I-love-ya-man affection.
Pine does the most restrained and nuanced work of his career as the more rational of the robber brothers, a man desperate to leave something behind for his kids, who hates that he must resort to stealing and who struggles with Foster’s unpredictable behavior. As evidence I offer up Pine’s beautifully rendered heart-to-heart with his teen son — one of the film’s best scenes.
Foster operates within his wheelhouse that is playing unstable sorts (Hostage, 3:10 to Yuma), but still manages to create a thoroughly three-dimensional variation of a man unsuited for civilized society. He expresses his love for for Pine with tough talk and playful wrestling, whoops it up during a getaway and skillfully employs a nasty-looking Colt semi-automatic rifle to chase off some gun-toting locals.
Mackenzie imbues it all with what feels like a deeply true sense of place, and not just via the dusty, sun-baked landscape, but the Texas attitude of smaller characters — the grumpy old waitress, the citizens proudly exercising their open-carry rights. Most especially, Mackenzie fills the soundtrack with some terrific country tunes — by Chris Stapleton and Waylon Jennings, among others — and a beautiful score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, which helps us empathize with the brothers’ plight all the more. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 11/22/16