Film Review: Hell or High Water


Hell or High Water

Film Review


There has been a lot of buzz circling around this film in the indie community. I have heard filmmakers rave about it on Twitter and the critics are in love with this movie.

Hell or High Water got a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to experience this picture in the cinema, which is even more depressing considering the fact that it was shot on anamorphic lenses, and the visuals were outstanding. However, I did rent the movie and watch it with my family; here is what I have to say.

Now, you have to understand that going into this film I knew absolutely nothing. I didn't know what it was about or any plot elements, which is rare these days, I know. But let me tell you, this film lives up to the hype. 

Any marketing or posters I saw for this film felt uninteresting to me, so it was a pleasent surprise when this film turned out to be almost flawless. 

This is determined storytelling, with passionate direction, and a hyper-focused screenplay. The cast is solid, and performances are amazing.


"Hell or High" Water is 1 hour & 40 minutes long and it is paced meticulously. It opens with a racing heart beat and takes it's time in the second act to build upon the character's and setting. For being a relativly short film, it had a pitch-perfect length. There is never a dull moment, and the dialogue makes each scene special. There are twists and turns throughout the screenplay that keep you on your feet and your eyes glued to the screen.


Let's talk about the performances in this film. The two leading characters played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster are class acts. They seep into their characters like masters of their craft. Jeff Bridges plays an almost-retired sheriff, patiently hunting these two men. His performance is quick-witted and methodical. His character makes a nice leap into emotinal territory in the final act.



Let's talk about the look and feel of this movie.

Filmed on Arri Alexa XT Studio with Hawk V-Light Anamorphic lenses.

The cinematography in this film is just down-right awesome. I don't neccesarily think it is oscar worthy, but it wasn't flawed either. It was just rock solid cinematography that didn't draw too much attention to itself and pleasantly blended perfectly with the story. That is what cinematography is supposed to do.

This film has a very "cowboy" feel to it. It takes place where, everyone wears cowboy hats and has a southern accent. On top of that, the scenery has a very southern feeling to it. The cinematography definitely complimented that, especially the choice to shoot on anamorphic glass, which gives it an almost nostalgic feeling.

And to touch on the writing again, the screenplay really used the environment to its advantage and had some really funny one-liners relating to stereotypes from Texas.


"Hell or Highwater" was directed by David Mackenzie. I haven't seen a single one of his other films. But I am a new fan after seeing this one. 

The direction of this film is incredibly focused. Every moment feels precise and filled with intention. I haven't met this director or seen how he functions on set, but I can tell he has a deep understanding of the screenplay. 

The material for this film was very patiently and maticulously handled, and I deeply appreciate that. I am very interested to read the screenplay and see how much they stuck to it. Either way, the director took what he saw in the heart of  the script, and brought that to the screen. The best part is that he did it successfully. 

I love how the vision for this film is conveyed in every aspect of how the film was made: From the cinematography, to the performances, the original soundtrack, and including the selection of location. This film is so solid it drives me crazy. And I feel the responsibilty of having the vision for the film fulfilled by all departments rests on the director's shoulders. Well, I can tell you, this director took on that responsibilty with confidence.



There has been a consistent popularity for anti-hero stories over the time filmmaking has been around. This is most prevelant in television. For instance, shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, and Game of Thrones have had massive audiences. Looking at this trend, you can tell people are interested in the bad guys. But the question arises - why?

I think it is because anti-heroes can, in instances, be very relatable. We are all flawed, and who is more flawed than an anti-hero? There is also an extra level of depth. Why do these people make the decisions that they make?

It is just so interesting. It's a particular type of disturbing storytelling you just can't turn your head away from. 

Anti-hero stories also tend to have more honesty. They don't try to sugarcoat things; they just give you the bare minimum.  They show you broken people and don't try to justify them or pity them. 


With every story that follows the villain, they always try to justify their actions. The same trend is found in this film. But it has a level of brutality and realism that makes that inner conflict of right-versus-wrong even more apparent. 

And the conflict seen between the brother's throughout the story and their differences makes for wonderful character work.


In conclusion, there have been heist films before and there have been anti-heroes before. The bankrobbery movie is nothing new (remember "The Town?").  But "Hell or Highwater" has something special that makes it different. It is probably one of the most grounded films I have seen in a while. I mean, this film is just smart.

The whole movie feels like something that could actually happen and something you could actually relate to. It's the small details like the brothers burying the cars they used to rob the bank or the fact that they exchange their bills for different ones. Every little thing counts and gives this movie an upper hand. You don't have to take a leap of faith with this movie, because you believe it.

That is why "Hell or Highwater" is great. It is a smart, fast, quick witted, and unique film. And there aren't enough of this type of movie these days.

Gabe SheetsComment