• by Wes Singleton

Hell or High Water, B+

Rated R, 102 minutes

The superb, stark and handsomely filmed Texas crime tale "Hell or High Water" is one of the year's best films and a must-see entry in the late summer fare. Directed by Scottish director David MacKenzie ("Starred") and written by "Sons of Anarchy" actor Taylor Sheridan, it's a familiar but richly drawn, taut tale of family and right and wrong. Toby (Chris Pine) is a divorced father who's trying to make a better life for his son. His brother Tanner (Ben Foster) is an ex-convict with a short temper and a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that's about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Marcus (Jeff Bridges), a Texas Ranger only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with a crafty lawman who's not yet ready to ride off into the sunset. "Hell or High Water" is a contemporary Western that could easily be about a modern day Frank and Jesse James, except these guys have slightly better intentions, to help save the family farm. It's filled with many humorous moments and many other tense ones; the three leads are excellent in a familiar story that reminds of Eastwood's 1993 "A Perfect World" or another version of the 1970's hit "Badlands." Pine, in one of his best roles to date, is believable the sensible younger brother, while character actor Foster shines as the hothead older brother, a role he's often known for but plays with such ease. Then there's the stalwart Bridges, chewing up scenery and getting in some of the best lines; as the racist Texas Ranger who's clearly in need of retirement, this could essentially be a contemporary Rooster Cogburn, though he meets his match in one scene - arguably the film's best scene out of many - as he meets a crusty old waitress in a steak joint in West Texas ("what you don't want?" she asks). Beautifully filmed among the backdrop of New Mexico (despite the West Texas setting), it also has a nice, alt-country-rock music soundtrack that keeps in flow with the film. Pine, best known up to now as the new James T. Kirk is remarkably able to hold his own with Bridges and Foster, and the final scene, with a tense stare down between Pine and Bridges, will stay with you after you leave the theater. "Hell or High Water" pulls few surprises, and the underlying theme of banks taking advantage of the little guy makes some of the plot point all the more ironic. Put this one on your list to see.

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