When was the last time you saw a western? This film genre, set in the old west and starring cowboy outlaws, was a favorite of Hollywood’s golden age just like superhero movies are on today’s top billing. In our current era the western has become a symbol of times gone by.
Fortunately there have been several films in the last decade worthy of the title. Django Unchained (2012), The Homesman (2014), True Grit (2010), and No Country For Old Men (2007). The latter film left the traditional format in favor of a new mashup of thriller-noir-western that brought the genre into the twenty-first century.
Following this trend, the film Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie, was released in 2016. The script was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also penned the screenplay for Sicario. It tells the tale of two brothers who join forces to rob banks throughout several small towns in Texas. It’s a simple premise that presents a more complex backstory.
As the two brothers roam the back roads of the West, the audience witnesses the symptoms of the recession through a devastating perspective of rural America: closed factories, boarded-up strip malls, and plenty of ads for payday loans.
Through this fictional tale of outlaws, the film is able to show a painful and uncomfortable truth: the lack of opportunities and jobs in a country that still believes in the American dream. It’s also a display of the abuse from financial institutions, ignorance, and discrimination.
The story is centered on two fugitives, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, and the Texas Rangers, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, tasked with bringing them to justice. This chase is set against the arid backdrop of the Texas west.
The entire cast delivers incredible performances, but its Bridges and Foster, who have already played these types of characters, who provide a new and interesting sensibility to their roles.
Just like La La Land has brought back the musical and The Artist made us nostalgic for silent black and white films, Hell or High Water takes us back to classic style of Hollywood films. While these films don’t create the same enthusiasm or anticipation as summer blockbusters, they remind us why the western is still a part of the art of cinema.
Just like this film, another indie release received plenty of accolades, including Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Have you watched Moonlight yet?
Discover the inspiration behind Xavier's Dolan's visual esthetic and sensibility.
Translated by María Suárez