I only recently moved to Texas. Growing up I made a joke of saying it was one the few states that I never wanted to live in. I based this largely on the conservative culture and my preconceived notions of the inhabitants’ backwards view of the world. Now I ended up moving to the least Texan of the Texas cities, Austin, 2 and a half years ago but there’s no escaping the shadow of the largest state in the union (fuck you, Alaska). On a near daily basis, I’m reminded of the rich history of the state. From the Cowboy boots, fashion’s least purposeful footwear, to the hats, fashion’s coolest hat, to the horses, to the guns, it’s all there. I’m in it and I’m honestly learning to love and embrace it.I moved from Florida, the dumbest state in any union that has no real style, not counting Tommy Bahama shirts, nor state pride because it sucks and is dumb. It’s definitely a lot more interesting to live somewhere with a defined persona, especially one so intoxicating as the Cowboy lifestyle. Feel the freedom! This is all to say that Hell or High Water resonated with me in a way I wouldn’t have imagined before living deep in the heart of Texas. The movie, starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster as law man and bank robber brothers respectively, is a history lesson of Texas. The film’s action plays out over the major themes of the generational divide among Texans old and new. Throughout the film there are subliminal and superliminal nods to how the state is changing while still desperately clinging to the past that defined it.
The plot of the movies focuses simultaneously on Pine and Foster pulling off increasingly high risk/reward bank robberies while Bridges looks for one last heroic arrest before he is forced to retire (is that a thing?). It’s revealed that Pine and Foster are only robbing to pay off their recently deceased mother’s farm so that Pine can pass it down to his kids to give them a better life than he had. Foster is the “bad seed” of the family so I guess who cares about his future. He’s in it just to help his little bro. Being a brother myself of the younger variety, I always appreciate the theme of brotherly love in a movie because it can be a powerful force in a man’s life (especially in movies) and lead guys to do dumb, reckless and exciting things! The relationship between the two actors holds up fairly well although I wasn’t really convinced by Pine as a cowboy or a brother. They throw in a scene where Pine has to defend Foster to show that he loves him but I was unconvinced. Pine just is too moody throughout and way overshadowed by Ben Foster’s expertly manic performance.
Meanwhile Bridge’s is as solid as you would expect. Per usual, he IS the character he’s playing. Every hand gesture, squint, and racist joke creates the backstory you’d like from the Texas Ranger he’s playing. It’s always a delight to see his masterful work. His character in this films represents everything I expected to find when I came to Texas: A gun touting old white man in a ten gallon hat, slinging off-color humor behind a smile. Gil Birmingham does well as Bridge’s partner, Alberto, to diffuse all the cringe-worthy remarks about his Mexican/Native-American heritage but ole’ Jeffy is one of the few actors who could pull off the epithets with minimal discomfort.
Birmingham’s NativeMeximerican heritage allows him to play the part of Texas past. Midway through the film, he’s gifted a speech that pretty blatantly lays all the cards on the table. The original American Texans took the land from the people who lived there first, and now the culture that those cowboys developed is being lost to a new era. The comparison is interesting but oversteps the idea that new Texans like myself aren’t taking the land with the same force as the old Texans. Semantics aside, it’s a movie that tries to capture a changing of the guard moment in Texan history from the inside. This isn’t a eagle eye view of the state as a whole but instead a tale on a microscopic level. The story is of a man with an eye on the future, trying to change the destiny of his descendants by taking charge of his situation an putting the past behind him. It’s a story that couldn’t take place anywhere by Texas. It’s a story that made me realize why I moved here in the first place.
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