In this part of Texas, the phrase “hell or high water” is often used in a variety of contexts. Just last week, I overheard a couple’s conversation in the bedding aisle of a large discount store. The woman had a basketful of beautiful, fluffy towels all bedazzled and adorned with pink roses. Her companion male was stating unequivocally, “Come hell or high water, those girlie towels aren’t coming home with us.”
Although the example plays to gender stereotyping, his sentiment was clear. He did not want those bath towels.
The title of the film “Come Hell or High Water” focuses on the colloquialism, underscoring the same resolute, take-no-prisoners determination. The title bears deep significance to the circumstances and to the mindset of a variety of characters. “Come hell or high water” becomes a battle cry for good guys and bad guys alike.
We’re all aware that West Texas has an essence all its own, and to see it judiciously laid out on the big screen is something of thrill. In its bleakness, the expansive landscape reminds us that West Texas was conquered through blood, sweat, and grit. The streets of the small Texas towns all look stunningly familiar, as do the residents at the gas stations and the coffee shops. Accents are dead-on, and dust-covered pick-up trucks more frequent than cars.
Two brothers Tanner and Toby Howard (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) decide to save their family ranch not by hard work, but by robbing banks. Although they’re not the smartest outlaws since Jesse James, they do manage to overcome a series of small-town bank managers. Branches of Texas Midland Bank just haven’t kept up to speed with technology. If the lobby does have a video camera, the tape’s not working.
It appears that the two will be unstoppable. The FBI has no interest, but Texas Rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Park (Gil Birmingham) do. They arrive to save the day.
This is a cat-and-mouse contest at its best. As a lawmaker Hamilton has a blood-hound sixth sense for knowing which bank the brothers will hit next. As robbers go, the Howards become more and more emboldened in their success.
In one botched heist, they’re chased by a group of locals driving Suburbans. Most bank robbers would understand a thing or two about gun-tottin’ Texans, but not the Howards.
Treat yourself to this modern-day West Texas western right from your easy chair, and don’t expect a typical ending. In particular, enjoy the award-nominated performance of Jeff Bridges, who has just the right blend of soft-touch and cranky.
By every measure “Come Hell or High Water” harkens to the Western myth and plants it firmly where it needs to be: right here in Texas where real men are cowboys and come hell or high water, they’ll have their way.
Rated R for some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality.
Marilyn Robitaille has been writing film reviews for the Empire-Tribune since 1999.