Hell or High Water (USA, 2016)

Directed by: David Mackenzie. There have been times over the last few years, amidst the exponential growth of the apocalyptic-cataclysm-climax summer blockbuster, usually in the form of superhero movies, that I wondered to myself if there would be a coming backlash of really successful, low(er)-budget, real-world adult movies that mythologize what it’s like to be in this modern moment for real people, that aren’t so deliberately escapist. I was wondering if the explosion of ambiguous, cynical, violent, critical films of the late 60’s to late 70’s—say, The Graduate to Apocalypse Now—against the perceived phoniness of the pre-war years, would ever kick in again. I wondered if audiences would ever get tired of being saturated in overdone CGI with half-cooked Saturday morning cartoon characters and a plot that was a half-allegory for something relevant in modern life, but mostly about space ships and cartoon villains and magical orbs and crystals and space guns and whatever. And to be sure, there are those “antidote” movies around, including this one, and this one got a lot of praise, and was nominated for an Oscar, and it’s a quality movie, but it sure doesn’t seem like this movie, or other movies like it, are making quite the cultural impact on this decade that The Dark Knight had. I guess all of this is the roundabout way of saying that I was kind of pinning a lot on this movie for some reason—why this movie more than any other?—and that it kind of fell short for that reason. But I also think that if a person just went into this totally fresh, they would enjoy it. By every criterion I can muster, this is a good movie, I’m just not sure if it’s a great movie. The story is a nice, timely tale about “regular Americans” against big banks—a tale as old as time, really, and a really good tale for Trump-ite America. I guess it just didn’t feel as urgent as it might, it felt like everything was decided already—the trope of the dogged lawman in hot pursuit, well, it wasn’t a terribly hot pursuit so much as a leisurely, calculated amble. Jeff Bridges rules in general,and he did a good job here, and Chris Pine does a fine job also. And you know, Ben Foster was good and everything, and he played his annoying character really well, but I’ve only seen him play annoying, dumb guys (the other thing was a supporting role in The MechanicX-Men 3, and now that I look, , the dumbest X-Men), and it makes me think that he’s annoying and dumb. And maybe it’s because the film spends more time on that dynamic between the brothers, and scarcely any time on the old sheriff in hot pursuit, that this film didn’t punch me in the gut, it didn’t hold my fascination, it was pretty well at a distance for me. I admired it, but from a distance, you know? And I guess time has to tell with these things, but it seems to me that this film will just be a good film and then go away, instead of a generation-defining film the way that, for instance, No Country For Old Men was instantly and still is, 10 years on. But I guess we’ll see.

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