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Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Writer's Life 12/17 - Texas Noir

In film, bankers are usually portrayed as cold, ruthless greed-mongers. Such stereotypes are at times are accurate, as the recent Wells Fargo scandal corroborates. Hell or High Water (2016) rises above its cliches about banking and poverty, and tells an absorbing story. Two West Texas brothers go on a robbery spree, taking small untraceable bills with which they purchase casino chips they don't use, subsequently turning them in for cash. For the elder, an ex-con, it's all a lark. For the younger, it is a mad hope to pay off the family's debts in order to hold on to a ranch where oil has been discovered, which will guarantee his sons won't suffer the travails he's had. Ben Foster and Chris Pine, the current Captain Kirk in the Star Trek series, are outstanding in their roles, as are Gil Birmingham and Jeff Bridges as the Texas Rangers on the outlaws' trail. Bridges, looking every bit of his 67 years, has added another great performance to his phenomenal canon. How refreshing to hear political incorrect dialogue by a heroic figure. The movie is not perfect. It sags a bit before the the slam-bang climax and goes over the top in one scene, its only deviation from the grounded. Despite the brutality of the last heist, I laughed out loud as the brothers were taken on by a dozen or so men who conceal and carry. That was reminiscent of scenes in Bonnie and Clyde (1967). David Mackensie, a Brit, directed and, from the perspective of this Brooklyn boy, nailed the landscape and people. The supporting and bit players seem so authentic. The screenplay was written by Taylor Sheridan, who has substantial acting credits in TV, and appears in a cameo in the flick. I'm not an expert on banking and casinos, but the plot machinations made sense. On the down side, the narrative is more understanding of the violent men who rob banks than to those who run them. Sure, that's Hollywood, but it would have been nice to hear Bridges' character make a couple of counterpoints. The soundtrack fits perfectly. Although I did not know any of the songs, I recognized three of the names associated with them: Nick Cave, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt. The final track, Outlaw State of Mind by Chris Stapleton, hit home. I'm listening to it in another window opened to youtube. Hell or High Water was moderately successful at the box office, bringing in $26 million on a budget of "only" $12 million. It runs about 1:45. 43,000+ users at IMDb have rated it, forging to a consensus of 7.8 of ten. I won't argue. Anyone squeamish about violence should pass. Although the film is not technically noir, as most of it takes place in bright sunshine, its themes are. The civil, verbal confrontation that closes it is both unique and highly suspenseful.

The temperature is rising and this morning's few inches of snow are already disappearing. The floating book shop will have to wait one more day to go back into action, as rain is expected tomorrow. Bah, humbug.
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