Hell or High Water review: Chris Pine ups the neo-western ante

David Mackenzie evokes the spirit of Peckinpah in a thriller about hard men from the old school

Hell or High Water
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Director: David Mackenzie
Cert: 15A
Genre: Western
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland
Running Time: 1 hr 42 mins

We will never get another Howard Hawks or Raoul Walsh, but, every now and then, we see a film that pays homage to their spirit.

David Mackenzie's cracking Hell or High Water is not so much the sort of film they don't make any more as the sort of film they don't go see anymore.

With a taut script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), the film works hard at fleshing out its flawed heroes without sacrificing any forward momentum. We still have room for a modern western, it seems.

Chris Pine (practical) and Ben Foster (unpredictable) play brother Toby and Tanner, who have taken to robbing banks in rural west Texas. The boys target branches of just one bank – the one threatening to foreclose on their farm – with a mind to protecting the family legacy.


Toby has found oil and, never a good parent, sees the black gold as a way of compensating for earlier misdeeds. Tanner, an ex-con, enjoys the robberies a little too much. Before long they are noticed by the sort of lugubrious older officer who is sure to be played by Jeff Bridges or Tommy Lee Jones.

It is the former, and Bridges exceeds our expectations in creating a dogged bloodhound who will not be deterred in his efforts to uphold the law. This is a rough country, but somebody has to honour the rules that hold it together.

The Texan spaces spread across the screen with blistering majesty. The gunfights and car crashes have the energy we would expect from a junior Sam Peckinpah. But it is the manly interplay that really sets the film aside from the pack.

We already know what Bridges can do, but Pine and Foster find new angles that have hitherto been softened by indifferent material. Their work brings intimate sadness to a film that is consistently unhappy about the wider workings of society. More like this please.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist