Banks under the gun by Richard Jones


A look at Hell Or High Water


I’VE always loved movies where locations are filmed in the Wild West, no matter in which era they’re set.

So it was with quite a sense of anticipation I took my seat in the cinema to watch director David Mackenzie’s take on modern-day outlaws and a spot of bank robbing.

Mind you, SUVs and pick-up trucks have replaced the horses and there’s not a Colt .45 to be seen.

Our lads favour automatic pistols but because the location is west Texas there’s plenty of cowboy Stetson hats to be seen.

The Howard brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are furious the local bank chain had exploited their late mother for most of her life.

Her farm barely managed to stay solvent, the cattle are bony and desperate because feed is so expensive so Toby is convinced a spot of stealing from the rapacious banking chain is warranted.

The bank had lent their mother just enough to keep the farm from going under and the “good” brother Toby is convinced the bank hierarchy is about to step in and claim what’s left.

So he convinces Tanner, the “bad” brother who’s just completed a prison term, that they should relieve the bank of what’s rightfully theirs to repay the outstanding mortgage.

Away they go, starting off with tiny bank branches in tiny towns pinching only the money recently deposited at the front desk.

They’re careful not to enter the safes or the vaults because the money stashed there could contain ink-staining devices.

Everything’s fine while they steal just from little towns. These desolate little places, with their ‘closing down’ and ‘for sale’ boards everywhere reminded me of today’s derelict little towns in Victoria’s Mallee and Wimmera districts.

And even though the robberies don’t net all that much it’s still illegal to hold up banks, clad in ski masks and gloves and waving pistols about.

Major law enforcement agencies aren’t interested because the hauls are so small, but the local Texas Rangers are soon hot on the Howards’ trail. They’re led by crusty old Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his native American-Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

Hamilton is on the cusp of retirement and it makes one wonder just how many more grizzled law enforcement officers are left in Bridges’ repertoire.

Remember him as U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ re-make of True Grit?

Hamilton and Parker narrow down the little west Texas towns where the crooks might strike next and hunker down in one ready for an early morning strike by the bank robbers.

What they don’t know is that to avoid tracking Toby and Tanner ditch their getaway vehicles in a huge, specially dug-out trench on the family farm. They then heap piles of earth on the never-to-be-seen again or used pick-up trucks and ageing cars.

Of course Mackenzie is heading us towards the inevitable climactic shoot-out.

But before we reach this rather bumbling confrontation in the desert there are a couple of absolute classic scenes which I found marvellous.

Hamilton comes upon a waitress (Katy Mixon) in a grotty little diner in one of the small towns.

She’d been tipped $200 by Toby Howard moments before Tanner tears out of the nearby local bank branch clutching piles of small denomination notes.

It was a completely unplanned foray but nonetheless the two men have to leave town in a screaming hurry.

The Texas Ranger wants to pocket the $200 as “evidence” but the waitress will have none of it. She farewells Hamilton with a few choice words and hangs onto her tip.

The second favourite scene of mine comes on the way to what we sense will be the Last Stand. Tanner Howard tells his brother to pull over.

They’ve fled the town – this was a mistake as it was a sort-of regional city, not a small, rural village – with the local gung-ho locals trailing the robbers in their own pick-ups and SUVs. So what does Tanner do?

Well, he pulls a sub-machine gun from the tray of the bothers’ newest get-away truck and marches down the road firing from the hip.

Tossing aside the spent magazines and loading the new ones into the gun Tanner soon has the town lads racing away from the area. In those vehicles still in working order!

It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year and I’m pretty sure it will rate among the top five in My Best Movies of the Year review to come in eight weeks or so.








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