In the spirit of starting this year’s Oscar reviews with honesty, I’m going to be upfront with you. When I saw that “Hell or High Water” was a Best Picture nominee I assumed it was because it was a Jeff Bridges western (he has a history). I was wrong.
The story of brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is, like all of this year’s nominees, timely. What opens as an apparent tale of cops and robbers—two brothers holding up banks and running from the lawman—quickly becomes an examination of (and I am hesitant to use this now politically charged term but here goes) the “forgotten men and women” of our nation.
For those unfamiliar (which unfortunately includes some of our leaders who also invoke their plight for political gain), I’m speaking of the men and women stuck in a cycle of poverty perpetuated by some of our nation’s financial institutions.
After the brothers hit up two branches of the same bank in one day, nearly-retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) begin attempting to predict the pair’s next move and determine their motivation.
The audience is right there with them, in the dark and not yet privy to the plans of these incredibly different siblings. Tanner’s a career criminal in the middle of a record time spent outside of prison. Toby is out of work, recently divorced, and struggling to pay child-support and hold onto the land and house left behind by their recently deceased mother. The possible motivations are many. I’ll leave you to ponder them and find out for yourself. I will tell you this…it’s poetic justice.
This story is not only timely, it’s well-told, but in a no-frills sort of way. In fact, this year’s batch of Best Picture nominees has, as a whole, turned out to be the most watchable collection of nominees I’ve experienced. In past year’s there’s always been that one movie that was “important” but incredibly difficult to watch for one reason or another (“Tree of Life” I am looking at you).
It’s not flashy, it’s not “ground-breaking” it’s just a good, meaningful story that’s acted, shot, and told well. And this year that feels especially welcome.