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Hell Or High Water

Don't Breathe

August 25, 2016

Hell or High Water (***) R

The similarities to the Coen Brothers’ 2007 Oscar winner for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men, are evident right from the start in director David Mackenzie’s bank heist thriller, Hell or High Water. For starters there’s the rural Texas backdrop in which the film is set, which catches the attention of the viewer right from the word go. More obvious, however, is the grizzled lawman played by Jeff Bridges who’s attempting to close the books on one last confounding case before setting off into the sunset and into his retirement and whose character clearly echoes the one played by Tommy Lee Jones in that aforementioned film. There are other parallels that one might find but I suppose you get the point.

On its own merits Hell or High Water is pretty good entertainment and it does offer a little more to chew on than just what’s on the surface and that’s certainly refreshing.

Chris Pine & Ben Foster in Hell or High Water

The film has been garnering lots of praise and attention since its release a few weeks ago but I think that’s mostly just because movie attendees are so starved for something with the earmarks of quality attached to it that anything made with any sort of skill is bound to make people sit up and take notice. Hell or High Water is a skillfully made film to be sure but I’m just not sure that it’s the kind of thing that’s going to be remembered come awards season in a few months. It’s good enough while one is digesting its story of bank robbers and lawmen but I’m not sure it has what is referred to as staying power. Only time will tell.

Chris Pine, currently being seen as Captain Kirk in the latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, stars here as Tobey, half of a bank robbing duo. The other half is represented by Tobey’s brother, Tanner, played by Ben Foster. Foster and Pine have good chemistry as the brothers on a crime spree and I somewhat sympathized with their plight. They aren’t just robbing banks because they’re bored. They’re robbing banks because they are trying to hold on to family property on which the bank has claims. Bridges is the Texas Ranger hell bent on bringing them to justice at whatever the cost.

The film scores with its well defined characters and even though character fates can easily be predetermined if one pays attention closely enough early on, Hell or High Water offers enough rewards to certainly recommend it. It’s a nice oasis in a summer of too much sameness. 

Don’t Breathe (***) R

Sometimes I forget why movies matter and then one comes along that reminds me how much fun it is to be a part of the communal experience that only seeing a movie in a packed theater full of total strangers can provide. The thrills of going to the movies came into clear focus the other night at the press screening for director Fede Alvarez’s latest thrill ride, Don’t Breathe. The audience gasped, screamed and even laughed at times as the film revealed itself. Suddenly I was reminded that this is the kind of thing that can’t be replicated in the comforts of one’s home and why going to the movies is still such a unique experience. The movie was fun but I’m not sure how enjoyable it would have been had I watched the film in my bed on a tablet or a small television monitor as many folks are prone to do these days. Suffice it to say that this is the kind of thing that makes going to the movies still a lot of fun.

Don’t Breathe is the first film directed by Alvarez since his 2013 remake of The Evil Dead. I didn’t much care for that film even though I’m quite a fan of the original trilogy of Evil Dead films, directed with such flair and gusto by the great Sam Raimi. Alvarez’s take on Evil Dead was too larded up with over the top gore for my taste and lacked the suspense for which the original series of films was known. Raimi produced that film and returns to producing duties with Don’t Breathe and his handprints are all over this one but in a positive way.

The film’s plot is deceptively simple in the same way that Raimi’s Evil Dead films were constructed from low-brow screenwriting elements. All the typical horror movie tropes are on display in the film and yet they somehow work, right down to the menacing dog that shows up just at the right moments.

Jane Levy in Don't Breathe

The story is set in the burned out ghettos of Detroit as three late teen/twentysomethings who yearn for a new life are enticed to rob homes in order to get their ticket out of town and to a new existence. Their latest victim is a blind man (Stephen Lang, villainous in the same way he was in Avatar) who has come into some money since the death of his daughter in a car accident. They assume it will be an easy score but little do they know. The blind man proves to be more of a menace than any of the characters could have ever predicted and the film eventually becomes a reverse sort of cat and mouse.

The film is skillfully directed and full of suspenseful sequences. Plus, it gives new examples of creative ways in which to use a turkey baster. Stick around for the third act and you’ll see what I mean. You have been warned.

Hell or High Water is playing at a number of theaters in Charlotte. Don't Breathe opens Thursday, August 25, in Hickory and everywhere else.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.



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