-An excellent late summer indie showcase and a mysterious little release that was buried in a sequel-heavy summer.
A common heading for reviews of the new neo-Western Hell or High Water concerns how “Hollywood doesn’t make films like this anymore.” In that, they are totally correct, with director David Mackenzie bringing us a massive throwback to decades past in this rustic crime thriller starring a pair of this generation’s most notable actors.
Although occasionally a slow burn, it’s a crime film that is emphasized entirely on reason and human pace. As we head further into these guys’ plan to make a quick sum of money, we also head further into real life, where small nitpicks in terms of plot detail are entirely absent. Hell of High Water is the definition of taut.
Our two leads are a pair of brothers: Chris Pine as Toby, Ben Foster as Tanner, who are doing small-scale bank robberies from the most minuscule of chains to avoid massive detection, and also float below the FBI’s jurisdiction. Toby wants to set his kids up with a future, resorting to crime as a necessity, and it just so happens his brother has a love and taste for breaking the law as it is.
After a few successes, everyone’s favorite bumbling Western Sheriff, Jeff Bridges, heads out with his partner (Gil Birmingham) to apprehend the slick pair of brothers.
We realize instantly that it’s a tale of generations, where the modern generation has enough knowledge to avoid capture against new surveillance technology, but the police work is done by an aging sheriff that seems straight out of a John Ford film. That’s Bridges’s strength here, as he plays the outsider in a world that is evolving around him. We want him to succeed, but we also understand the circumstances behind Pine and Foster’s decision to steal. Sometimes, the rural world and evaporation of manufacturing in the suburbs leaves people desperate, and that occurs to our characters in this movie. It’s worth also noting that Gil Birmingham, most famous from his small role in Twilight, is fantastic here as the Comanche descendant that the purist cowboy in Bridges manages to befriend. Sometimes, the time evolves with all of us.
Some gritty camera work and a fantastic shootout scene put an excellent cap on a very solid, near-perfect film. It’s tough to go to a 4.5 or 5 star rating for this film because it doesn’t quite reach an excellent level of excitement, break-necked pacing, or emotional turmoil, but for a film that doesn’t try to reach a lofty standard, it manages to execute its purpose with true flair and maturity.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Director: David Mackenzie (Starred Up, Mister Foe)
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, and Dale Dickey
RT Score: 98%
Known almost entirely for his direction of horror films, director Alexandre Aja decided to put a new type of notch on his resume with The 9th Life of Louis Drax, a compact little mystery that channels adventure-oriented Spielberg with the mystique of a David Cronenberg. Although monstrously flawed and occasionally childish, ‘Drax’ manages to stay afloat enough for a mixed review.
Once our story gets started, there are really two narratives. The main one involves a neurosurgeon (Jamie Dornan) investigating the mental faculties of Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth), an accident prone young boy who has fallen into a coma following a really scary cliff-side fall. As his mother (Sarah Gadon) sits by and becomes increasingly close to the doctor, the authorities try to determine how Louis fell in the first place. Our second narrative is one of dream sequences and flashbacks, detailing the relationship of Louis, his mother, and his father (Aaron Paul) and a mystical presence that begins guiding Louis further into his comatose state, and possibly manifesting itself to the doctor. (Oliver Platt also plays a very effective therapist. He’s really good here, also.)
All performances here are really good, especially Sarah Gadon and Aaron Paul, who both turn in strong, emotionally volatile work. Dornan plays the straight man more than usual, just being a sturdy presence to allow the more emotional performances to work. In that, there are dynamics and relationships in this film that really work. Some of the scenes that this movie manages to turn out are occasionally spooky, and occasionally really emotional to a pretty critical point. I was surprised by my investment for how this turned out.
The negative factors, however, are too tough to ignore. Some ends are left loose, but the biggest drawback is the constant clash in tone that the movie suffers. Because it can’t decide between mystery, family-oriented, or supernatural thriller, many of the elements create a clashing that drag the film down. It’s not that hard to go from an emotional Aaron Paul scene to a spooky Jamie Dornan scene, but it is hard to go from incessant child narration like a youngster learning to read a bedtime story to a scene where a scary presence haunts one of our leads. It can’t decide to be an adult film or be family friendly, and the rated R rating really hurts its appeal.
I think it was just a handful of really solid ideas and performances that couldn’t be fleshed out into a complete whole, which is why it didn’t get a true wide release. With a tentative amount of warning, however, I would recommend The 9th Life of Louis Drax for a rental watch, just to see if you become as entrenched in this unique and spiritual little tale.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)
Director: Alexandre Aja (Mirrors, Horns, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D)
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Aiden Longworth, and Oliver Platt
RT Score: 39%