Hell Or High Water Review

Sicario was one of the highlights of last year. A dark, twisting film about an extra-legal team from the FBI trying to shut down the drug cartels in Mexico. So when writer of Sicario, Taylor Sheridan, name came up in the pre-release buzz around Hell Or High Water, my interested picked up. Are we in for another grim treat?

Hell Or High Water stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham and is directed by David Mackenzie. The film follows a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Pine and Foster) who after several daring heists are chased by a determined aging Texas Ranger (Bridges).

The three leads are tremendous, a sure reason to go see Hell or Water. Just like other great suspense heist films such as Heat, we see both sides of the law, seeing their wins and losses, with us rooting for both cop and criminal. Jeff Bridges does his usual “too old for this” schtick. He even says that this is his last case (an all too common trope), but he is still an interesting character. Chris Pine and Ben Foster work well together as brothers Toby and Tanner, they have a good back-and-forth, whether it be during the getaway or back home on the ranch. Pine sheds his usual douchy persona and brings a layered character, trying to provide for his family doing something that might get him killed. Ben Foster starts off as the wackier older brother, but thankfully adds more nuance to his performance rather than the played out lunatic bank-robber formula. All three sport Texan accents, which sometimes are hard to understand.

While the film is supposed to be in West Texas, it was actually filmed in New Mexico. Even so, the scenery is beautiful. Much like Sicario before it, Hell Or High Water has may long. wide shots of the never-ending landscapes and stunning setting suns. The film also makes use of the urban environments, little one-street towns and retro diners, leaving a sense of places that simply got lost in time. It gives both a feeling of modern day but also timelessness. If you swapped out the 4x4s for horses and the automatic rifles for revolvers, you would have yourself an old-fashioned Western.

The film is over 100 minutes, but none of it felt like it was dragging or padding out the run-time. The extended bank sequences, using long sweeping takes rather than conventional editing keep the excitement up as the brothers go from bank-to-bank. The film also masters the art of the “ticking-time-bomb”, having something dangerous (in this case a bank robbery) in the background, while the other characters are talking with each other, oblivious to what is happening behind them. These dual approaches to the story keep it moving rather than the slower methods or predictability of previous heist films. The plot might become apparent to more savvy watchers, but the story behind why the brothers are bank-robbing will keep you invested until the finale, with raging gun battles and car chases suiting the more action-oriented fans.

The action is rather sporadic, but it is explosive and brutal. Guns are used more for intimidation, but when bullets start flying they leave blood and brains splattered. It isn’t glorified, again, similar to Sicario, it’s more sickening than fun.

The film is completed by country music, blaring both out of the radio and as part of the soundtrack, created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. While country may not be to my taste, it fits the film’s setting perfectly, once again creating that atmosphere of young and old merging together.

I was holding Hell Or High Water to a high standard with the list of names attached, but it easily delivered. With tense and dramatic heist sequences, beautiful scenery and supreme acting from the three leads, this is one to go and see.

Score: 9/10 They don’t make many like this anymore.

Triple 9 Review

We’re in the dead zone of cinema at the time of writing. All the Oscar/BAFTA/Golden Globes nominations have come and gone through the theatres and now we’ve got a hard slog until the middle of March (March is when the releases start getting good again). But, as I always try and get a film reviewed once a week, here is the film that interested me the most. I give you Triple 9.

Triple 9 stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson and is directed by John Hillcoat. The films follows a group of dirty cops who to pull off an impossible heist, decide to commit a Triple 9, the radio call for an “officer down” to distract the police force.

While the script is pretty poor, the cast list is pretty good. As well as the four big names mentioned above, the supporting roles are also filled with great actors and actresses. Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Cilfton Collins Jr. and Gal Gadot all do their best with what is a weak script. There is no lines that stick in my mind, but all the actors manage to perform well.

The film starts with a heist and it has some great tracking shots through the bank. While it might never reach the heights of Heat or Public Enemies (both directed superbly by Michael Mann) it still manages to be tense and adrenalin-fuelled. The climax of the scene is an escape on the freeway, while red clouds of smoke (from tainted bills swiped during the robbery) billow out of the escape vehicle. It’s a great opening to the film and captures the feel of the film in a few minutes.

While the film is generally a thriller, the rest of the action is of merit. A raid on a drug-dealers house that eventually spills out into a running gun battle through the streets is exciting, with gunshots coming from all around. The police officers are confused from where they are being shot from and so are we. Another more downbeat action scene, which involves Casey Affleck’s straight cop Chris trying to track Anthony Mackie’s dirty cop Gabe through a dilapidated housing project, despite there not being much action on screen is still very enjoyable to watch. It feels almost like a horror film, as we jump at shadows that could be a violent end for our protagonist.

One thing I did like about Triple 9 was that the film was set in Atlanta. Originally it was to be set in Los Angeles but I’m glad it wasn’t. We’ve seen L.A. in so many films before (it’s also the setting for Heat, just to keep the comparisons coming), it gets kind of repetitive. We see several different locations throughout the film and all of them are varied. The abandoned housing complex is really well visualised and is unlike anything I’ve seen in a similar film. It’s just a light touch to change the setting but it pays dividends.

The film has its faults. I already talked about the weak script, but in general the story is your average heist affair, with nothing really standout. The crooked cops might have been a fresh take, but the film never explains how or why they started robbing banks, which would have added some character to the rather bland protagonists. And as a final point, the film runs for a lot longer than it needs to. The film is brushing at two hours, when really it could have been fine at closer to ninety minutes. I checked my watch a few times in the final half hour and could see a good deal that could have been cut.

In summary, Triple 9 is your average thriller. It doesn’t get to heights of films such as End Of Watch or Sicario, but in a month of slow releases, it’s a fine choice.

Score: 7/10 Nothing new, but still enjoyable.

Point Break Review

One of my favourite quotes on filmmaking is from director Jim Jarmusch; “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels with your imagination.” While people might be quick to dismiss it, those who know their film history can argue the difference. We see this idea in thousands of celebrated films; Star Wars, Daniel Craig’s James Bond films and nearly all of Tarantino’s filmography. Sadly, it’s the same reason why shoddy remakes are made as well. What a coincidence then, that a remake of Point Break is out this week. How does it stack up against the original?

Point Break stars Edgar Ramirez, Luke Bracey, Ray Winstone and Teresa Palmer and is directed by Ericson Core. Based on the 1991 film of the same name, the film follows FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Bracey) as he goes undercover to stop a gang of extreme sports athletes from disrupting the world economy.

The script is atrocious. While the original had some moments of “surfer dude” talk about fighting against “the man” and “the system”, the remake just goes overboard, with every two seconds being filled with conversations about being “one with the earth” and “fear is the master, you are the slave”. It’s less of a script and more a collection of inspirational bumper stickers. The times when it isn’t the surfer dude mantra, is expository, leading to some hilariously bad lines. It feels like so much of an afterthought, I wouldn’t be surprised if the action scenes weren’t even shot for the film, instead a script and additional scenes were created after to get it into cinemas.

The action scenes were promising at first, but most are rather boring. The remake tries to one-up the original by staging several extreme sports; snowboarding, wing-suit gliding, base-jumping, free climbing, motocross and of course, surfing. They are linked together by something called the Osaki 8, a mythical set of eight ordeals to honour the forces of nature. This is obviously the films major selling point, and sure, it’s nice to see some breathtaking scenery, but even in what are supposed to be the high-octane scenes of the film, it falls flat. I’ve linked it back to the characters, we don’t care about them. We haven’t warmed to them so we aren’t bothered that they are coming so close to death. In fact they don’t care either. One of them dies half way through and literally after a ten second scene of mourning him, they are back to partying, drinking and having sex. It’s feels so absurd that I was shaking my head in disbelief.

It gets worse when the film tries to be Point Break though. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to the Ex-Presidents scene in the original, this time with Barack Obama, Vladamir Putin and George W. Bush instead of Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Carter, and obviously the film ends with the 50-Year Storm wave. But the worst moment in the film is the re-enactment of, in the words of Nick Frost, “firing your gun up into the air while screaming argh” scene. Once I saw Utah pick up a gun, all I could think was, “Don’t do it, please don’t do it.” It’s ridiculous and out-of-place and really doesn’t make sense in the film. There is none of the bromance of Reeves and Swayze from the original, so it makes no sense for Utah to not just shoot Bodhi where he stands. I would actually be more lenient on the film if it wasn’t a Point Break remake. If it had changed a few of its characters and it’s story aspects then it could have been passably enjoyable. That’s how The Fast And The Furious started out and look how well that’s done.

The French director Jean-Luc Goddard once said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” Director Ericson Core has taken Point Break to the depths of cinema hell. Don’t waste your money, I’ve haven’t even seen Deadpool yet and I bet it’s more enjoyable.

Score: 2/10 Take the film out of the cinema and shove it down the toilet.

(I did go and see Deadpool and it was more entertaining. Read the review here).