Scene of the Day – Hard Truths in Hell or High Water

THE much anticipated Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, arrives in cinemas tomorrow. A must see film.

Set on a snowy and isolated Native American Reservation, this crime story marks another impressive outing for writer and director Taylor Sheridan. On the eve of Wind River’s release, it feels fitting to revisit Hell or High Water, which Sheridan won a Best Screenplay Oscar for earlier this year.

Sheridan, working with director David Mackenzie (Starred Up), crafted an excellent slow-burn crime story in small town Texas. Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) are brothers who embark on a bank robbing spree as they desperately seek cash to keep hold of their soon-to-be foreclosed family ranch.

On the brothers’ tail are Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Marcus’ pursuit, owing to his age and wily experience, is one of patience and composed investigation. A game of chess rather than a sprint.

At one point, Marcus and Alberto sit across the street from a bank anticipating that Tanner and Toby will eventually show up.  The dynamic between the two officers is one of the highlights of Hell or High Water.

Marcus takes regular digs at Alberto, often based on his Native America heritage, but there remains a great mutual respect between the two.

In this scene, Alberto takes control of the conversation. He talks about the deterioration and impending extinction of this small Texas town – which he points out only has one restaurant and a hardware store that charges twice as much as Home Depot.

Alberto is by no means sympathetic towards the local Texans. As he says: ‘A hundred and fifty years ago this was my ancestors’ land… until the grandparents of these folks took it.’ This time, as Alberto notes, it is the banks who are ready to take over.

It is a fascinating speech from Alberto. His words speak to the destructive greed of American life, now manifesting itself in money-driven corporations and profit-obsessed banks. Those who do not comply – whether they are Natives or small town folk – will be displaced and their way of life will subsequently vanish.

Ironically – given Alberto’s hostile feeling towards banks – he is on the hunt of two criminals who are railing, albeit violently and illegally, against the banks. He cannot win, and his place at the end of the film (I won’t spoil it for those who are yet to watch) speaks volumes to this.

Modernity and capitalism can be cruel, fast-moving and indiscriminate forces. High or High Water rebels against them in cutting – both with violence and words – fashion.

Hell or High Water is worth watching again. As for Wind River, it is essential weekend viewing.

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