Hell or High Water - High Water Mark
| I have missed out of the films of David Mackenzie but after seeing his lusciously bleak neo-western crime drama Hell or High Water I want to see them all. From the opening shot, which lumbers along, following a single car cutting through the tragic tranquility of an almost ghost town, he grabs your emotions and pulls them through a wringer without one egregious moment, one excessive set piece, or a dishonest pot shot. Instead Hell or High Water is a sincere treatise on the end of the road.
Everything and everyone has hit the end of the road in Hell or High Water Chris Pine's character is trying to pave a new one for his children before he's done. But the characters, the towns, the culture, are all taking their last gasps. There is a self-awareness to the life in Hell or High Water, an acknowledgement it can't continue. The film embraces the old-worldliness of its setting, the backwards ways of thinking about race and gender, and shames itself for it. This is a way of life that not only can't continue but shouldn't. It's represented in both the good (the retiring Texas Ranger's being set out to pasture) and the bad (the self-destructive criminal's insistence on going out in a blaze of glory.
And the film has a beautiful air of tragedy to it, tragedy in the classic sense. They characters are being brought down by their own faults, their embrace of the so called free market has turned them over to exploitation by the more powerful and it's over. There is a beautiful, yet understated (as is everything about Hell or High Water), speech by the film's half latino half first nations ranger, who points out to his white counterpart that his people were "indians" too at one time, until they were beaten into being something else. There is a recognition by all involved that the old way is dying off, and many are riding it off into the sunset like they are in an apocalyptic tragedy.
Mackenzie downplays the violence. There are moments that could have been something out of a Tarantino film but they are not. They are realistically bland. Mackenzie finds a different means of creating cinematic beauty in the gun fights. And every bullet is felt, every punch hurts. Hell or High Water in its placid simplicity makes you understand the pain of the violence and never once crave it, never once cheer it on.
Bridges, Pine, and Foster all give amazing performances (nothing surprising there). The film sidelines its female characters. Interestingly off screen it is the women each get to have far more agency than the men. The sun is setting on the men's world, especially the white men's world, but the women get to insist on their way. From the waitress who takes her own future into her hands despite whatever the men around her try to tell her to do, to Pine's ex who points out just how much she has taken responsibility for. It is the men whose tragic end is coming while women remake the world in a way that is better.
The the tragic end is ambiguous. Will they destroy each other or share in each others' losses? It is a lovely, quiet little ending reminiscent of No Country for Old Men. But it is the quiet resignation to the inevitable which is fascinating to watch in this beautiful sun-drenched film. It is scored beautifully by the talented Nick Cave and his lovely melancholy cowboy tunes are perfect for what is a lovely, perfect little film about loss, about saying goodbye to a world that needs to go for the benefit of future generations.