4 March 2017



I was absolutely determined to hate this film before I watched it. A heist, guns, shooting, a modern-day Western and an elderly Jeff Bridges playing a portly Texas Ranger on the cusp of retirement? No thanks.

I've always loved Jeff Bridges, especially when he was young(ish) and handsome and sexually magnetic, acting with such stunning leading ladies as Michelle Pfeiffer and Glenn Close in films like THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS and JAGGED EDGE. Did I want to see him all old and pitiful? Hell no.

Well, I'm here to tell you that I was wrong on all counts, folks. This is a brilliant film and Jeff Bridges is nothing short of masterful in it. A woman admitting she was wrong about something? Well, it obviously can happen sometimes, haha.

I'll give you all a moment to get over the shock and then I'll proceed to tell you exactly why this is such a cracking little movie. All recovered? Right-o. Let's move on...

In the first place, yes, it is a modern-day Western. Now, I adore Westerns but I've never really been happy watching anything that came later than Sergio Leone's excellent tagliatelle ones, see? What? Tagliatelle's a kind of spaghetti, isn't it...?

HELL OR HIGH WATER changed my mind about all that. It's an immensely powerful story about two brothers, each pushing forty or thereabouts, who carry out a series of bank robberies in order to save the family ranch from the clutches of the bank itself. 

Ironic, isn't it? They steal the dosh from various banks in order to give the money back to the bank to stop it from foreclosing, as they call it, on the family home.

There's more to it than that, though. The younger brother, Toby, a real moody, broody heart-throb who looks a bit like Thor (aka Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth), is the instigator of the robberies. The boys' old Mama has just died, leaving the ranch in its entirety to Toby and not a sausage to Tanner, the black sheep of the family.

Toby, who's always felt like a real failure for having wasted his life (presumably on booze and just generally being a loser), wants to leave the ranch to his own two young sons, from whom he's estranged. His ex-wife looks at him as if he's sporting horns and a tail, so clearly he was somewhat sub-par as a husband and father.

He emlists the help of his much wilder older brother Tanner in robbing the banks in the area to make the mortgage money. They have only a few days in which to do this. Come hell or high water, they've got to have that money by a certain date or they'll lose the ranch. And, speaking of the ranch, something's been found there that guarantees a bright future for Toby's boys if only he can pay the mortgage in time...

Tanner probably would have robbed those banks just for the hell of it. He's mad as a hatter, irresponsible and dangerously impulsive. He's also spent the last decade in jail for killing a certain someone from whom both boys were directly descended, hint hint. But he had his reasons. And he loves his brother Toby and wants to help him make a better life for the two young fellas.

Jeff Bridges plays Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, the old copper whose job it is to catch these two crooks. This will be his last job before he retires. He's not looking forward to retirement. His beloved wife is dead. What's he going to do with himself all day? Sit on the front porch and rot?

Jeff Bridges does a superb job of portraying the gruff old geezer with a heart of gold who's terrified of being put out to pasture, of feeling useless, redundant, surplus to requirements. I nearly cried my eyes out at how poignantly he played the character of the grizzled old Texas Ranger.

Even sadder and sweeter is his relationship with his work partner, Texas Ranger Alberto Parker. Alberto is a huge handsome fella of Native American origin (he's half-Comanche) with a bit of Mexican thrown in. Marcus spends all day ribbing his partner with outrageously racist remarks that roll off Alberto like water off a duck's back.

Now, you might be wondering what's so sad and sweet about that? It's the genuine respect and affection the two of them have for each other that's so heart-breaking. Yes, they slag each other off all day every day, but the viewers know full well that, if anything happened to either one of 'em, whoever was left behind would be gutted. Their relationship and repartee was one of the best things about the film.

The film is really strongly character-driven, with these four well-rounded, multi-dimensional men whom we can all relate to, even if we haven't done the things they've done. It's more than that as well though.

It's a dirge or lament for the death of the Wild West as well, the decline of the bank robber and the cowboy and the cattleman and the rancher and the Native American Indian, whose lands have been long since taken from them, we know by whom but we won't say, haha.

The film has some richly comic moments in it too, but I prefer to revel in the sadness, the bleakness and the pain of it. I genuinely love a good revel...! There's a terrifically mournful soundtrack to accentuate the tragedy of it all, and the lyrics of some of the songs really reflect the action well.

 A quick word about the women in the film. Though they may have smaller parts than the men (ahem!), they're all tough, feisty and likeable characters, from the busty waitress who clearly fancies Toby (well, she's got eyes in her head, don't she?) to the game old bank teller lady who tells the two bank-robbin' boys they haven't got the brains they were born with, or words to that effect.

HELL OR HIGH WATER, complete with some rather snazzy behind-the-scenes extra features, is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray courtesy of STUDIOCANAL.

It gives me hope both for the future of the Western genre and also for the acting future of Jeff Bridges and other actors like him who may be getting on in years a bit. There's a lot of great roles out there and you don't have to be twenty-something and stick-thin to grab 'em. And long live the Western movie genre. If HELL OR HIGH WATER teaches us anything, it's that there's life in the old dog yet.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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