New Mexico in Film: Hell or High Water
We’ve all heard it at this point: New Mexico is quickly becoming the place to film new movie and television projects. A lot of it has to do with the up to 30% tax incentives, but now that more and more productions are coming to our state, the films being made are just as diverse as our landscapes. Whether they’re good or bad, these movies were shot in New Mexico and used the multiple beautiful backdrops it has to offer as well as give our residents jobs and that has to count for something.
For this segment, we look at Hell or High Water.
Shot in cities such as Clovis, Portales, Moriarty and Albuquerque, the film follows Tanner and Toby Howard (Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively) as they rob a series of banks. They are followed closely by Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). While trailers and other reviews have done so, I don’t want to spoil the reason as to why they’re stealing this money, but let’s just say the plot works in some socio/political commentary without being too blatant or pandering, which is always a good thing.
The performances from everyone involved are incredible. Ben Foster is an actor that I’ve always appreciated. More often than not, he’s one of the best aspects of his movies and this time is no different. Jeff Bridges is great and charismatic as usual and Chris Pine is also surprisingly good. I’ve never thought he was a bad actor, but he shows a range here that I’m not used to and his performance is just as consistent as the rest of the actors he’s featured with.
The screenplay from Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) is very well written. Hearing the character’s back and forth dialogue is a pleasure to listen to and it comes across as very natural while also being engaging. The direction from David Mackenzie is confident and the cinematography from Giles Nuttgens is gorgeous featuring the flat, wide plains of New Mexico substituting for the smaller towns in Texas, where the film takes place.
There’s little negative to say about Hell or High Water. It is a small scaled picture and the series of events play out in a quieter way than today’s audiences may be used to (which admittedly affects the replay value), but it’s so well told and engaging that there’s really nothing to criticize.
One of the coolest things about this film is how it seemingly came out of nowhere. Following massive summer blockbusters and the endless advertisements that surrounded them (Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne), Hell or High Water was released around the same time and has since grossed a little over $25 million. It wasn’t an action spectacle loaded with CGI or based off any preexisting material and it wasn’t the origin story of a superhero. It was a simple, effective, thrilling narrative that concentrated heavily on the characters and their relationships with one another and the escalating series of events that surrounded them.
The Verdict: A-
Hell or High Water has been nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture (although we all know some of those awards deserve to go to Nocturnal Animals, but that’s an argument for another day). It’s available on DVD, Blu Ray and streaming services.