What happens when the American Western meets the decline of the American dream?  Hell of High Water puts a contemporary spin on the outlaw tale.

Brothers Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) rob banks.  Specifically, they wait for branches of the Texas Midland bank in West Texas to open, then they pull down ski masks and have the employees give them all the money from the cash drawers, $20s or smaller, no packets.  Toby and Tanner drive off, ditch their stolen car, get another one, and plan on hitting the next Texas Midland bank.

It's no coincidence that the Texas Midland bank is being targeted: It's about to foreclose on the Howards' property, following the death of their mother, and the brothers are laundering the bank's own money to pay off the mortgage.  Toby wants the land for his kids -- who he can't see because he owes his ex-wife child support.  And Tanner is an ex-con, recently out of prison and far more of a loose cannon.

Meanwhile, the two are being pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers.  Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is on the verge of retirement and has an almost languid approach to catching the robbers.  Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) barely tolerates Marcus' jokes about his Mexican and Indian heritage.   Together they find towns suffering from depression and poverty, and people who are fine with folks robbing the banks that seem determined to rob them,

Hell or High Water proceeds along its two paths -- the robbers out to get enough money, and the police focused on stopping them -- at a slow, deliberate pace.  The actors all do fine jobs, and among the numerous locations there's a feel of desperation as the economic downturn has hit all these small towns, and their occupants, hard.  Hell or High Water is far from a feel-good movie, but it's a modern Western with something to say about what happens to people in a downturn.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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