Hell or High Water

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 06, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Hell or High Water


David Mackenzie

Release Date(s)

2016 (November 22, 2016)


CBS Films/OddLot (Lionsgate)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B-

Hell or High Water (Blu-ray Disc)



Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) are on a crime spree, robbing rural bank branches in West Texas. Tanner is newly out of prison, a criminal his whole life. Toby’s new to the trade, but he’s got a reason to take it up. It seems the bank signed his dying mother to a high-interest loan to keep the family farm afloat. Now she’s gone, and Toby is left with nothing but debt to leave his estranged children, so he’s turned to his brother for help. Bank robbery doesn’t sit too well with veteran Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), however. Marcus is just weeks away from retirement, facing a boring end to his days on this Earth, so he’s more than happy for one last run and bites into the investigation like a dog to a bone.

Hell or High Water a bit like a more reserved and bleak West Texas version of Heat, with a dash of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Last Picture Show thrown in for good measure. It’s not so much the story that shines here, as the authenticity of these characters and their setting. The dialogue is honest, easy, and terrific, written by Taylor Sheridan (screenwriter of Sicario) who grew up in this part of the country and knows it intimately. The film was directed by a Scottsman named David Mackenzie, who you’d think would be an odd fit for this material, except that he’s a damn fine craftsman. Sometimes it takes an outsider to a place to see what’s so obvious it’s become invisible to the locals. Hell or High Water is one of the most well-cast Hollywood films in years. Bridges is absolutely superb, wearing his part like a second skin. He has an easy and entertaining chemistry with the equally good Birmingham; the two bust each others’ balls from start to finish with “friendly” racist insults in place of sharing their feelings, as stoic rural American men so often do. Foster’s become a solid character actor in his own right and he shines here. Moreover, this is – flat out – Chris Pine’s best performance in film by a wide margin. Add to all this magnificent cinematography by Giles Nuttgens, and a fine soundtrack produced by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the result is one of the best films of 2016.

Lionsgate presents the film on Blu-ray Disc in 1080p HD at the 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The film’s color palette is slightly desaturated by design and then the color timing has been pushed toward the warm end of things to create a hot, bleak, and high-contrast look that enhances the landscape well. Texturing and detail are very good, with nice black levels. Sound is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with additional options in English Descriptive Audio, English 2.0 Dolby Digital (mastered for late night viewing), and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DTS-HD mix is wide and enveloping, with good clarity and fidelity. The track is atmospheric, with restrained but immersive use of score, but has plenty of bite when the tires squeal and the bullets fly. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, and Spanish.

The Blu-ray includes the following bonus features in HD:

  • Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water (13:36)
  • Visualizing the Heart of America (9:28)
  • Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water (12:24)
  • Red Carpet Premiere (1:53)
  • Filmmaker Q & A (29:51)

That isn’t a ton of material, to be sure, but it actually turns out to have more substance than you’d expect going in. There’s also a DVD version in the packaging, along with a Digital HD code on a paper insert.

When you watch a lot of films for a living, every now and again you finish one and just know immediately that it’s damn near perfect. This is one of those times. For some reason, Lionsgate hasn’t released this film in 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format yet. They should really correct that oversight, post-haste, because it’d look damn great with High Dynamic Range. Hell or High Water is an instant classic. Do not miss it.

- Bill Hunt


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