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Non-Review Review: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a modern western, a tale of the land and the people shaped by it.

Hell or High Water revels in the old cowboy tropes. Repeatedly over the course of the film’s runtime, eye witnesses liken the outlaw pair at the centre of the story to “cowboys” or “cowpokes.” Set in West Texas, the film unfolds in a world of cowboy hats and rattlesnakes. This is a story about lonely men in the desert, land and self-determination. At one point, a half-Native American half-Mexican character pauses to reflect upon the idea that this is essentially the foundational myth of the frontier playing out again. The actors might change, but the roles remain the same.

No Country for Young Men.

No Country for Young Men.

Hell or High Water is bitter and cynical reflection on the concept of land and ownership, and the importance that it plays to the American identity. Towards the end of the film, bank robber Toby Howard justifies his actions by reference to generations of struggle; the generations that came before and the generations that will follow, and the land that has either condemned or sustained them. Toby is quite literally building his own future out there on the frontier, his bank robberies motivated by the urge to wrest back his family’s land so he might wrest a profit from it.

Like its lead characters, and like the land that drives them to this desperate course of action, Taylor Sheridan’s script is reserved and restrained. There is an economy to it, a sparseness and a leanness that suits this tale and the people inhabiting it. However, Sheridan’s script implicitly trusts director David Mackenzie, who manages to find a striking beauty and a stunning brutality in this rugged landscape inhabited by these rugged men.

At home on the Ranger...

At home on the Ranger…

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