12 Days of Christmas Catch Up, day 11: Hell or High Water

Merry Christmas Eve.

I’ve been enjoying a couple of days at my parents...meditating by the lake, reading three books at once (really enjoying J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy!”), eating things I would never eat at home--accompanied by more difficult than usual runs, and recharging. 

Last night I somehow managed to sleep 9 hours…and that after an hour nap enjoyed earlier in the day. The Christmas holidays are very special times these days, filled with gratitude and reflection on the year that has passed with serious thoughts about the year ahead. I’m apprehensive to say expectations, but to say I’m not considering/solidifying goals would be a lie.

Since I started writing about the Oscars, it has been a tradition of mine to bring a couple of movies home to watch with my family (and sometimes ones to watch by myself that I know won’t pass the parental test!). This year I brought “Jackie” for Mom and “Hell or High Water” for Dad. It’s been the plan to watch “Jackie” tonight since I got it in the mail. The perfect Christmas Eve night viewing, but my unexpected immersion into “Casual Vacancy” yesterday led me to postpone “Hell or High Water” until this morning. Hence the lack of post yesterday.

I have been hearing buzz about “Hell or High Water” since its release, but judging it solely on its cover, I figured it wasn’t going to really factor into the Oscar conversation. But several months after its release, it became something I could not ignore. It seems that everyone I know has seen it and the Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominations for Best Picture and screenplay as well as nominations here and there for Ben Foster (Critics Choice) and Jeff Bridges (Golden Globes, SAG and Critics Choice) flung it onto my must list.

“Hell or High Water” is the story of a divorced father, Tony (Chris Pine), desperate to save his family’s ranch from the big bad banks, enlisting his ex-con brother (Ben Foster) to be the muscle to Tony’s brains in a bank robbing operation. While they race the clock, retiring Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham) race them.

I had some apprehension about the movie from the start. Dale Dickey in a supporting role check! The perfunctory golden Western cinematography, check! Bad boy played all method-y by a woo-hoo-ing Ben Foster (two whoops in the first scene!), check! And to top it all off we get Jeff Bridges: surly, sarcastic and mumbly..check, check CHECK! My apprehension might have been founded, but the end result was a complete surprise.

Once we meet our leads and get the premise out of the way, the story begins to unfold like a Shakespearean tragedy with the only villain being circumstance. So many aspects of this movie could so easily have brought the film to its knees, but what at first seems on the nose takes a turn from the obvious to the foreboding with David Mackenzie earning the use of all that western stock, elevating what screenwriter Taylor Sheridan has already beautifully written. It is the perfect combination of director and writer and performances. The two leads are great, but they are matched completely by the small players of the film. The vigilante rancher (Keith Meriweather), the “sassy” waitress (Katy Mixon),the “T-Bone” waitress (Margaret Bowman) the local diners, the prostitute at the casino (Melanie Papalia), the Comanche at the poker table (Gregory Cruz). And Bridges. Ah, Bridges!

Jeff Bridges gives an Oscar worthy performance, one that really sneaks up on you. Near the end of the film, when Marcus must truly must take matters into his own hands he has a moment that awards are made for, literally running through about 6 emotions in seconds but in a completely non-grandstanding manner. This is not a canned performance. It is remarkable…the likes of which we rarely see. A true character performance, but bathed in realism.

I had not expected to like this film as much as I did, and it certainly throws a bit of a wrench in what I had begun to think was my Top 10. More will certainly be revealed in the next few days.

The end of 2016. We’re almost there.


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