Robbing banks in West Texas has some peculiar risks. Get the bank on a busy day, and you won't be the only one in line with a gun. Not only will they object to your queue-jumping, some might even round up a posse of pick-ups and come after you.

Even if you make a clean getaway, there are Texas Rangers like Marcus (Jeff Bridges), who's been doing this for a long time. So long, he's about to retire. Catching you just might be just the kicker his career needs.

You and your brother might consider yourselves tumbleweed Robin Hoods - only stealing from branches of the bank that is committing its own daylight robbery on your family ranch.

Marcus don't care. He's a wise old rooster. He is not a lone Ranger, either. He has a Comanche-Mexican sidekick Alberto whose mixed ethnicity amuses him no end. They needle each other an old married couple.


But they are just one of two great double acts in this film, one that's part contemporary Western, part crime thriller, part family drama and all quite brilliantly put together.

The other double act is brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster). One's tried to be an upright citizen, the other has done some time. Together, they've figured the only way to keep the family ranch their late mother mortgaged to the hilt, is to rob the mortgagor.

Foster's Tanner is the ex-con but it's Pine's decent divorced dad Toby who masterminds the two-man crime spree. They're believably fraternal and a standout performance from Pine helps keep the audience on the brothers' side - even against the best efforts of Bridges' gruff old coot to steal the movie out from under them.

Hell or High Water does start out feeling like a genre exercise. But the way it gently and precisely unfurls its plot, the characters and their motivations lifts this above the ordinary.

It can feel familiar - as if a good ol' boy version of Heat was set in the next county to No Country for Old Men.

But Hell or High Water manages to be guns-ablaze exciting, a tenterhooks thriller, a fine judge of character, and a commentary on the economic times. It's also neatly textured by its Texan setting, a place of impeccable manners and concealed carry.

Scriptwriter Taylor Sheridan has been down this way before on the border skirmish thriller Sicario but it's a foray into foreign territory for British director David Mackenzie.

He and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens revel in the depths of both Sheridan's story and the wide horizons of the landscape. You will too. Hell, it sets a high water mark for movies this year.

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster Jeff Bridges
Director: David Mackenzie
Rating: R16 (violence & offensive language)
Running time: 102 mins
Verdict: Is this the best movie of the year?