Hell or High Water is a 2016 American neo-Western crime thriller film directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan. The script was on the 2012 Black List. The film follows two brothers who carry out a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch, and stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster.
The film premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2016, and was theatrically released in the United States on August 12, 2016. It received critical acclaim and grossed $37 million. The American Film Institute selected it as one of its ten Movies of the Year, and it has been nominated for numerous awards, including Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Bridges and Best Screenplay. It received four Oscar nominations at the 89th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Bridges), Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.
In West Texas, divorced father Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) carry out early morning robberies of two branches of the Texas Midlands Bank. Though the robberies are well-planned, Tanner's wild nature leads to him taking unnecessary risks, frustrating Toby.
Two Texas Rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), are on the case. Hamilton, who is close to retirement, quickly determines the brothers' methods and personalities. Meanwhile, Tanner robs another bank while Toby unknowingly waits at a nearby diner. They take the stolen money to an Indian casino in Oklahoma to be laundered. They exchange the stolen bills for chips, some of which Tanner uses to gamble. Toby then has the casino convert them into a check made out to the Texas Midlands Bank – the same bank they robbed. With untraceable funds and gambling as a cover for how they were acquired, the brothers head back to Texas.
It is revealed that the brothers' mother died recently, leaving their ranch in debt due to a reverse mortgage provided by the Texas Midlands Bank. If the debt is not paid off in a few days, the ranch will be foreclosed. Toby is determined to pay off the mortgage to ensure a comfortable life for his estranged sons because oil has recently been discovered on their land. They rob Texas Midlands as a form of frontier justice. It is also revealed that Tanner shot and killed their abusive father.
Hamilton stakes out another branch of the Texas Midlands Bank, but the brothers don't show. Hamilton figures a pattern to the robberies and determines their next target. Hamilton and Parker are en route when the final robbery indeed occurs there. Pressed for time, the brothers proceed with the heist even though the bank is full of customers. A shoot-out ensues when a security guard and an armed civilian fire at the brothers and Tanner kills the guard and the civilian, but Toby is shot in the hip.
The brothers race out of town, with a posse of armed townspeople in hot pursuit. After gaining some distance, Tanner stops and fires an automatic rifle at the posse, forcing them to retreat. The brothers then split, with Toby taking the money using another vehicle, while Tanner creates a diversion. He draws the lawmen off the trail to a desert mountain ridge where he takes potshots with a sniper rifle, killing Parker. Hamilton uses a local resident's knowledge of the area to circle behind Tanner, and kills him with a single head shot using the local's rifle.
During the standoff, Toby (concealing his bleeding, but minor, hip bullet wound) passes through a police checkpoint without incident, then successfully launders the stolen cash at the casino, where he sees the news report of his brother's death on TV. He takes the casino's check to the bank just in time to avoid the ranch's foreclosure and deeds the ranch into a family trust.
After retirement, Hamilton visits his former office to learn that the Rangers have cleared Toby as a suspect, as his record is clean and he has no motive to steal since the new oil wells earn more in a month than the total stolen in all of the robberies. The money from the ranch's oil wells is deposited at the Texas Midlands Bank, which refuses to co-operate with the investigation for fear of losing management of the family's trust fund.
Hamilton visits Toby's ranch, and while they stay civil, Hamilton states that he knows Toby masterminded and took part in the robberies, but wishes to know the reason. Toby does not explain, only implies that he did what he did for his sons. Their conversation is interrupted when Toby's ex-wife and sons arrive. The ranch belongs to the trust and thus to them; Toby is only there to visit and fix up the house. As Hamilton departs, Toby suggests they meet again soon to "finish the conversation," to which Hamilton agrees.Jeff Bridges as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton
Chris Pine as Toby Howard
Ben Foster as Tanner Howard
Gil Birmingham as Texas Ranger Alberto Parker
Marin Ireland as Debbie Howard
Katy Mixon as Jenny Ann
Dale Dickey as Elsie
Kevin Rankin as Billy Rayburn
Melanie Papalia as Emily
John Paul Howard as Justin Howard
Christopher W. Garcia as Randy Howard
Margaret Bowman as Waitress
Writer Taylor Sheridan makes a cameo appearance as a cowboy.
On April 18, 2012, Deadline reported that Sidney Kimmel Entertainment had acquired the heist film Comancheria, scripted by Taylor Sheridan, which SKE would finance and produce with Peter Berg of Film 44. At Cinemacon 2016 in Las Vegas, a standee was presented for the film, revealing that the title had been changed to Hell or High Water.) Berg was potentially attached to direct the film. Endgame Entertainment and Focus Features were also among the studios bidding for the project against SKE. The script won the best Black List script in 2012. On April 2, 2015, it was announced that Jeff Bridges was set to star, while Chris Pine and Ben Foster were also in talks to join, and David Mackenzie was set to direct the film. On May 4, 2015, Pine and Foster were confirmed to play brothers in the film, who commit bank robberies to save their family's farm in West Texas, while Bridges would play a Texas Ranger set to catch the brothers. CBS Films acquired the US rights to the film, which Sidney Kimmel of Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Peter Berg of Film 44, and Julie Yorn for LBI, produced, along with Carla Hacken, Gigi Pritzker, and Rachel Shane serving as executive producers. Sidney Kimmel Entertainment developed the project with Film 44, and OddLot Entertainment co-produced and co-finance the film along with SKE.
Although the film's plot takes place in West Texas, filming took place in Eastern New Mexico. Principal photography on the film began on May 26, 2015, in Clovis, New Mexico. Filming also took place in other New Mexico communities such as Portales and Tucumcari. Some rural scenes were filmed in the vast and sparsely populated ranch country of Quay and Guadalupe counties of New Mexico, including scenic shots of Alamogordo Valley south of Luciano Mesa.
The film premiered at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2016. It began a limited release on August 12, 2016, in the United States, followed by an expansion on August 19, and a wide release on August 26. The film opened in the UK and Ireland on September 9, 2016, and opened in New Zealand on October 21, 2016.
Hell or High Water grossed $27 million in the United States and Canada and $10.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $37.6 million, against a production budget of $12 million.
In North America, the film grossed $621,329 from 32 theaters in its opening weekend, for a $19,417 per theater average. The following weekend, the film expanded to 472 theaters, grossing $2.7 million (a per theater average of $5,709). The film began its wide release at 909 theaters on August 26, and grossed $3.7 million over the weekend, finishing 12th at the box office.
Hell or High Water received critical acclaim, with many praising the film as revitalizing the western genre. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 98% based on 226 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Hell or High Water offers a solidly crafted, well-acted Western heist thriller that eschews mindless gunplay in favor of confident pacing and full-bodied characters." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 88 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film four out of four stars, saying, "In ways large and small, Hell or High Water is a movie so beautiful and harsh and elegiac and knowing, the moment it was over was the moment I wanted to see it again." IGN reviewer Samantha Ladwig gave the film a 9/10, saying "Hell or High Water surprises with its complex narrative, stuns with its cinematography, and makes up for this summer's shortcomings." Tom Stempel of Creative Screenwriting praised Hell or High Water as "a fresh, smart, bank robbery-character study and one of the best screenplays so far this year."