Had this flick on the backburner since a looong time, never felt like watching it. Finally did it and … I’m pretty happy for it.
Following a series of armed robberies at a number of branches of Texas Midland Bank where very little money was taken, we learn that the motive of unemployed oil and gas worker Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his brother — just released from prison — is to raise enough money to pay off the reverse mortgage that will forfeit their recently deceased mother’s ranch if not paid off. Oil was discovered on the ranch and in order to secure the future of his sons and ex wife, Toby needs $43,000. After two of the robberies, curmudgeonly Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his American Indian deputy partner pick up the trail and just miss foiling the next, and last robbery.
Tomatometer: 97%, 88%
There ain’t much to say about HHW … at all. And that, in the year 2017, kinda demands a wordy and longwinded explainification in itself. Without wanting to spoil anything we can state this is a “small” movie about “small” people, living “small” lifes and having a “small” story to tell. Asking me – which you should never ever do!!! – I find this quite remarkable.
While some self-acclaimed Guardians are busying themselves with saving the whole galaxy, but without leaving any lasting impression, in HHW our protagonists, or antagonists (my internal jury is still out on that question), are only trying to save their own bacon, minding their own business. Apart from that there isn’t much going on. And the movie is so much better for it!
Because, if you put the simple story into the hands of a competent director and have it played out for you by a very very good cast, you don’t need all that shiny spectacle, CGI trickery and Worlds in Danger scenarios no modern movie can do without.
Do the stills look boring to you? Don’t get your hopes up too high, the movie was like that most of the time: Cast members sitting around and engaging in dialogue. Action is sparse, death happens suddenly and without much drama and engaging musical score. Like in real life.
And even tho most of the characters didn’t have much to say, what they said was kinda important for the story and the movie. When just with a couple of mumbled sentences by extras it becomes clear that the true villlains in this movie are the banks, not the brothers trying to rob a couple thousand bucks in order to save their farm.
Does this mean HHW is a political movie? Are there commies hiding underneath the bed? No, not at all! It’s all as it is. Poverty is just another factor of live in rural America. Particularly after the 2008 crisis. Neither the screenplay, nor the director, nor any of the cast make a big deal of it. But they deal with it!
That’s what HHW is all about I guess. “Small” people dealing with the hardships of life, everyone in their own way. Let’s get to other aspects of HHW, okay?
I can’t say enough about the cast. Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham are great as Chris Pine‘s and Jeff Bridges‘ sidekicks, said Jeff Bridges shines in his role as a grumpy old Texas Ranger (and himself, LOL) it was particularly Chris Pine who knocked me off my feet. I never thought much about him as an actor. For me he was a pretty-faced Captain Kirk and a teenage heart throb … seeing him playing a divorced father staring into the face of financial ruin, changed everything. He was so good, so believable, so true to his role. Bravo!
I also can’t speak highly enough of Scotsman David Mackenzie’s direction of HHW. Maybe it was his outside view onto a typical American story and typical American characters that was needed to nail HHW in such a poignant fashion. I particularly liked how he managed to make the harsh semi-arid landscape and the big empty sky characters of their own, and quasi mirrors of the characters.
So did Mackenzie make an oldschool western? See, now you’re talking. Coz that’s the only really important question and I’m shocked you didn’t ask earlier! Let me try to answer as best as I can …
So, while HHW has all the ingredients of an old-school western movie, down to the look and feel and everything I would say no. HHW is a modern movie, just without the big budget (12 mio $$$ is a fukn bargain these days), it can’t withstand giving some political and socio-cultural commentary. Not much, but noticeable.
Jeff Bridges’ racist remarks about Mexicans and
Indians Native Americans are so cleverly built into the script it becomes clear even for the most dumb audience that it’s a meta effect, very self-aware of its non-PC-ness. Fuk, even his old fart Texas Ranger character knows about it and does it deliberately (it’s kinda like Orca sprinkling around the occasional Fuk throughout her blog, a meta statement).
Secondly we’re never sure about who are the bad guys and who are the good ones. Of course Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Birmingham) are good. But are Toby and Tanner Howard (Foster, Pine) really the bad guys? I mean like really rotten to the bone meaniepoofaces? Come on, you know the sort, know them from literally every western flick in the Hollywood history of ever. And while yes, we can state Ben Foster’s character is a helluvalot more brutal and ruthless than Pine’s so he must be a bad guy, no, they are in peculiar circumstances and dealing with the situation.
Add to that the subtle sympathy by the townsfolk and the general understanding that the real evil in HHW are the anonymous bankers, and you can surely say: No, Sir, this ain’t your High Noon-style western. HHW is a modern, self-aware movie. There are no clear-cut lines between good and bad, between righteousness and evilness for the sake of being evil. We also see it in the behaviour of the townfolk. The same guys that just stated the banks are evil don’t hestitate a second to go in pursuit of the fleeing Tanner bros, armed to the teeth and thirsty for blood. I guess even the culturally starved desert dwellers need some kind of entertainment every once in a while.
The next elephant in the room and the next inevitable question. Let me get it out of the way at once: No! You can’t really compare HHW to the force majeur we all know and love as No Country for Old Men! Let me tell you why right after the next still …
NCfOM was from its very planning onward a much bigger movie. It was what I call an Ensemble Movie, with a huge cast of famous names and many interwoven stories. All Tarantino like. It played for all kinds of audiences and was like a lucky bag. Grand spectacle!
That doesn’t make HHW the worse film of those two. It has other intentions than NCfOM, tells us a small story in few words and little action and a lot of atmosphere. It’s much more down to earth and more believabe. Not that I didn’t enjoy Javier Bardem’s cartoonish NCfOM villain tremendously; he would be totally out of place in a movie like HHW.
Oh, almost forgot this little scene in the still above. That Ben Foster’s character owns and uses a MPi was almost a bit overdone in the contect of HHW. But the reaction by the pursuing townsfold/lynchmob made it perfectly clear that we’re dealing with a modern take on the old western topic here: As soon as their cars got riddled with bullets they all turned around and ran away. Unthinkable in the classical western genre, where men were real men and died like real men. 🙂
So, my CONCLUSION: It’s not easy, as my internal jury is still out on HHW. Yes, it’s a great little movie. It’s effective in telling us its little story about little people and it gives us a little truth about life in America. For my taste it was a bit sparse on cineastic qualities. Ugh, no, it’s hard to say. The cinematography was great, the acting was great, the production was totally up to par and then screenplay was sharp and to the point. But was HHW enough of a movie to by a ticket for? Or should you stay home and wait for the Blu-Ray to appear on the darknet? I guess the latter is the better decision. 🙂
As usual, here come the YouTube reviewers:
Are you becoming as Stuckmanized as Orca did?
Astonishingly earnest review by the What the Flick team.
Mark had to give his two cents as well …
This girl noticed the rare intelligent dialogue of HHW’s screenplay as well. Nice job.
No need to watch any flick anymore after you heard Alachia’s analysis.
This guy kills it!