Shot in the crummiest, most desolate parts of modern-day Texas imaginable, this surface-level, pulpy heist thriller is much more than its basic description might lead you to believe. Two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob a series of local banks with motivations atypical of “because that’s where the money is” type of reasons.
Hidden behind its genre exterior is a movie that has a lot more to say about the sense of hopelessness and the cyclical sickness of poverty that can produce a landscape fertile enough to make people turn to the likes of a huckster like Donald Trump. The foreground may cover many of the tropes of a rural bank robber movie, but the economy is always in the background. In the form of closed businesses and dispiriting little towns that feel more like prisons with no gates as opposed to places anyone would choose to live. The film is steeped in the sort of sadness that explains why people resort to desperate measures to make a way forward. Any way forward.
It comes as no surprise that Jeff Bridges would play a Texas Ranger with superior wit and guile (also with more than a passing resemblance to Kris Kristofferson), or that a meatier than usual (seriously, he caught up with a lot of those meals he’s been skipping all these years) Ben Foster, could come off so well as the reckless sibling. The the real revelation here is Chris Pine, as an ostensibly decent man who’s made a lot of mistakes in his life and believes the only way to fix them is to make a bigger one. You could easily imagine Josh Brolin or Timothy Olyphant pulling off the sort of laconic weariness that Pine plays here. You probably wouldn’t bet it were in the wherewithal of an actor most known for playing a smirking Captain Kirk. The scene where Pine tells his son that bad things are going to be said about him in the future and that his son should believe them is a mini-masterpiece that Pine perfectly underplays.
It should be noted that Hell is real Texas though. So Texas that No Country For Old Men is sitting over there in the corner saying “that shit is pretty damn Texas.” You can practically taste the dust and smell the livestock. One’s ability to be steeped deeply in the conventions, traditions, and landscape of the Lonestar State will be tested. However, the unconventional tack taken by director, David Mackenzie and screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, in regards to the struggles of the average American’s ability to keep their head up above, upend all expectations and place their film on a higher plain. Much like Andrew Domink’s deeply underrated, Killing Them Softly, wrapped a hitman story line in the cloak of the ’08 election and the cratering economy, asking larger questions beyond the bones of the plot, so does Hell. One might even argue it does it in a better, more subtle fashion.
That’s intended as a high compliment. This is one of the best films of the year.
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