Oscars 2017 Retrospective: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a poignant commentary on the Midwest of America, a visually interesting film that brings Taylor Sheridan’s outstanding script to life. The most notable aspect of this film however is the performances. The plot revolves around two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) stealing from different branches of the same bank for an unknown reason, and one soon to be retiring cop’s (Jeff Bridges) attempts to catch them. This leads to stellar performances from Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, both of whom share one scene right at the end in which they are both exquisite, showing a great deal of nuance by simultaneously ramping up tension and exploring the deeper themes of the film. Although it may be less obvious than Bridges, Pine’s performance is undoubtedly the most mature and deep of his career. Ben Foster however, for me, is the undeniable star of the show. He steals near every scene he is in, with an energetic and intense outing as the hot shot loose-cannon of the two brothers. The script is what allows this to happen, with very simple but meaningful dialogue mixed in with an expert ramping of tension from scene to scene. The script also manages to subvert near every trope of an action movie containing bank robberies and cops, and as a result the audience is constantly kept on their toes, as we realise early on that attempting to predict what’ll happen next is futile.

Hell or High Water 1A big question amongst many however, is whether this is really “Best-Picture” worthy, and whether its’ inclusion is an indicator towards the expansion of the nominees allowing for weaker films to be nominated. Despite its many positives, there are undeniable problems. The most notable for me was the sound mixing. At its worst, it makes it near impossible to figure out what the characters are saying, made even worse by Bridge’s occasional tendency to mumble slightly. Further, though Bridges mostly did fantastic with what he was given, there is one specific area in which the characterization was poor. His partner is of Native Indian descent, and from early on it is clear that Jeff Bridges’ character is constantly racist towards him. Now though this is obviously unpleasant, it is repeated far too often over too long a period, to the point where it becomes totally superfluous to the characterization, stopping halfway through would have been suffice. More worryingly it becomes totally tiresome, about 2 thirds of the way through the movie you just want to reach through the screen and slap him across the head, scream at him to stop. What made it so infuriating to me was how utterly brilliant Bridges’ performance is outside of this one area. It is outstanding and near perfect, which makes it infinitely more irritating.

Hell or High Water 2Now these are merely minor gripes, and not reflective of the movie as a whole. I have not even touched on the beautiful cinematography, the stunning use of colour, and the brilliant direction by David Mackenzie. But these gripes, these minor flaws are what should remove it from the running for Best Picture. I loved it, I genuinely did, but when a movie with such flaws needs to be far more accomplished both on a technical and emotional level than this is in order to be “Best Picture” worthy. It kills me to write this as it is an outstanding movie with a real voice and brilliant performances, but for me it’s just simply not quite on that level.

Written by: Michael Slavin – @MichaelSlavin98 on Twitter

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