Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie has had a quiet career of powerful but little seen films. From 2004’s Young Adam to the criminally underrated Perfect Sense and blistering Starred Up, he’s always seemed on the cusp of a bigger career, but also firmly resisting the move to much bigger budget features.
His latest is Hell or High Water which has been earning critical acclaim around the world and it could see him finally getting the international attention he deserves.
The film stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who are already in the middle of a determined plan to rip off a series of banks in their area of rural Texas. Their activities earn the attention of almost retired lawman Jeff Bridges and things go from there.
Hell or High Water kicks off with a long gliding shot that introduces the dilapidated world of the film, showcasing Mackenzies’ ease with the camera and the simple but planned elegance of these heists. It’s an assured entrance, and a perfect set up for the unfussy filmmaking to come.
This is a surprisingly quiet film considering the subject matter. Sure there are a number of action packed moments and more broad hijinks by Foster and Bridges but there are depths in the things unsaid and the choices not pursued.
Pine is ostensibly the lead here but Mackenzie wisely doesn’t rely too heavily on his rather limited skills as an actor. He looks well and seems to be thinking deeply, leaving Foster as the much more memorable sibling.
Really the film belongs to Bridges who arguably has more to do despite limited screen time and functions as the heart of the picture. Right and wrong are pretty fluid concepts here but you can definitely see where the lines in the sand are drawn as the finale approaches.
I’m a big fan of Mackenzie and he’s well paired here with Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan but it’s still venture he’s made better films. Hell or High Water is a strong story which brings its characters on a journey that’s satisfying and somehow inevitable, but it’s ultimately a little low key and even forgettable after the credits roll.
Still well worth seeking out, and don’t forget to catch up on the rest of Mackenzie’s filmography, though you can probably skip 2009 sex comedy Spread starring Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche - even masters have an off day…