Tag Archives: david mackenzie

Hell or High Water

This movie is more high-noon western than high-octane thriller, but there is indeed a heist at its heart.

Two brothers, Toby, tall and handsome (Chris Pine), and Tanner, short and surly (Ben hell-or-high-water-chris-pine-ben-fosterFoster), have little in common except for the rough past they come from, which they are both desperate to escape. Toby has spent the last few years caring for their mother while the family ranch slips away. Tanner has spent the past year since he’s been released from jail tempting the fates to put him back. Now they’re working together to save the family ranch from default – and will do so by robbing a bunch of Texas Midland bank branches, and paying the bank back with its own stolen money.

The only catch: sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is close to retirement but not keen to go, and this one last case is not going to be the blemish on his career. He chases the brothers all over Texas until he pinpoints the next branch they’re about to hit, and lies in wait.

Hell Or High Water is superbly acted. You can’t even say with certainty which of the three leads steals the film, but they’re all making the right choices, the quiet choices that make for the most interesting of character studies. That said, the secondary characters – and hell, even the one-liners – are all praise-worthy here. And I am obliged, once again, to worship at the altar of Jeff Bridges, chronically underrated but truly one of the wonders of the world.

The pace helps set this movie apart. It’s not fast or furious: it blows by at about the speed of a tumbleweed in a gentle breeze, which means you have time to get to know everyone, 97178_044and in getting to know them, maybe you actually care. There is a certain sympathy accrued for both the cops and the robbers. It’s the kind of movie that made the car ride home extra engaging, as we figured where they all stood on the Bad Guy Scale. Toby, for example, is robbing the bank that robbed him. He’s doing it to give his kids a future. But he’s using a gun, which means people could get hurt. So is he good, bad, or somewhere in between? 49% good? 51% good? 75% relatable? 100% justified?

One thing’s for sure: the blackest hat of all is reserved for the banks. The Big Short was last year’s testament to the American Dream’s foreclosure, and although my hat’s off to Adam McKay for making a narrative film out of a nonfiction book (and I don’t mean a biography – this baby was characterless, plotless, and read more like a textbook, by which I mean full of facts and figures, but not remotely dry or boring), it never really resonated with me. Hell or High Water puts a name and a face to poverty, and calls it a disease. An epidemic, even. Director David Mackenzie has accomplished something significant here, dragging the good old Western into the 21st century, a time of economic anxiety, where the little towns look even more derelict and neglected than they did in the wild, wild west. There’s an ache to this film cultivated by fantastic dialogue and scenic shots, handily catapulting itself into my top 5 of 2016.

Starred Up

I’m a sucker for any art form that has grit, character, heart and integrity. Starred Up has it all. Set in a modern day prison (Mark, this is what a real prison looks like) the story picks up as a 19 year old (Jack O’Connell) is sent to an adult prison for an undisclosed crime. From the beginning I was enthralled by the young O’Connell who not only plays his character with intensity and accuracy, but manages to be quite endearing regardless of his aggressive and sometimes unpredictable behaviour. It doesn’t take time for O’Connell to feel at home within the starredpenitentiary walls. It’s almost like coming to prison was all part of a master plan to reunite with his estranged father. The cast, which I did not recognize by name but rather by previous works is composed of Rupert Friend (Homeland) Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Night Rises, Killing Them Softly)  is also quite stellar.  Mendelsohn, who is  serving time in prison, is tasked with playing O’Connell’s caring but ultimately inadequate father.

As part of the prison routine, O’Connell is forced to attend group therapy. In comes Rupert Friend, an ultra-caring counselor who seems to have O’Connell’s best interest at heart and shows hints of a checkered past himself and turns out to be our delinquent’s only chance at redemption.  It’s safe to assume O’Connell has very little upbringing. His strengths consist of aggressiveness, fearlessness and a strong will to stand up for himself amongst a cohort of rapists, murderers and thieves.

For me, the true villain of this film is poor parenting, which left me with existential questions. For example, is it fair for a child to be thrown in prison because his father was an incompetent fuck? Is the prison system the right place for most criminals? Especially young ones. Are there any decent alternatives? And also, why is prison culture something we accept as a society? We are all aware that people get raped, stabbed, shanked, shived, beaten and even killed in prison. So why is that acceptable? Because they’re are criminals? That doesn’t fly with me.

Throughout the movie the director, David Mackenzie, tackles themes of abandonment, social justice, family and in the end our humanity. We all go through trials and tribulation but unfortunately who you were born to will, more often than not, tell you what your trials will be and what tribulations await.

I totally recommend this film to anyone who enjoys good cinema. The script, the cinematography (which I know very little about) the acting, and the soul of this movie were all very satisfying to me.


7.5  out of 10