Hell or High Water (4 stars)

Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and Chris Pine star in an offbeat heist film with the smarts to match its sass

'God, I love west Texas,' remarks lawman Marcus (Jeff Bridges) after an encounter with yet another colourful local. Hell or High Water has much the same motto, revelling in lavish quantities of southern sass as it winningly combines Heat-style action, social commentary and character comedy. Despite its considerable affection for tarnished Americana, one of England's finest is at the helm: director David Mackenzie, following the formidable, grimly British Starred Up.

We're introduced to two big ol' personalities, each with their own suffering sidekick. The story follows flamboyantly reckless career criminal Tanner (Ben Foster at his show-stopping best) and his taciturn brother Toby (understated work from Chris Pine) as they rob multiple branches of Texas Midlands Bank over just a few days.

On their tail are gruff Texas Ranger Marcus – mere weeks from retirement, he's like an elderly bulldog, cheerfully spitting out racial slurs whilst working his way through a whole mouthful of wasps – and his half-Indian, half-Mexican partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). The leisurely pace of the older men's pursuit is in stark contrast to the brothers' apparent rashness.

Working from a terrific script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), Mackenzie has crafted a crime film of rare warmth and charm; one that delights in its downtime, in speech inflections and region-specific humour, amusingly noting that local fondness for weaponry and a tendency toward bloody mindedness add a certain je ne sais quoi to a hostage situation.

Hell or High Water wears the twists and turns of an intelligently conceived, all-is-not-as-it-seems narrative lightly, boasting ample vitality but opting to keep things largely low-key and giving a sensational cast – particularly an on-fire Bridges – room to do their thing. Moreover, Mackenzie's tenth feature cultivates great compassion for its characters, while making wider points relating to exploitation and community erosion well. Its salty flavour and penchant for tomfoolery can't mask the aching heart at its core.

General release from Fri 9 Sep.

Hell or High Water

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 42min
  • 15
  • Directed by: David Mackenzie
  • Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Gil Birmingham
  • UK release: 9 September 2016

Career criminal Tanner (Foster) and his taciturn brother Toby (Pine) rob banks across Texas, pursued by gruff Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Birmingham). A winning combination of Heat -style action, social commentary and character comedy, with a sensational cast and an aching heart.