Monday, August 22, 2016
High Water Mark
Maybe too much.
It went down so smooth, so easy, so clearly made to please me that it made me suspicious. I keep asking myself what I missed and my guess is - nothing. I think... I think I got it all.
Is that a complaint?
It's not, but it's left me with the uneasy feeling that perhaps it was just a (very) well-executed bank-robbing thriller with a solid cast and better (much better) than average aesthetic choices, and that I'll be forgetting it soon.
Like I said - I liked it. But I wanted to love it. And one crucial piece of my loving a movie typically has to do with its jagged edges, its extra-crunchy or surprisingly chewy bits that I'm left gnawing on or (maybe not even completely) digesting for a good while to come. Hell, I wouldn't say I loved it, but I am still working on David Ayer's Sabotage two years later - that thing was prickly and messy and a welcome surprise and I want to revisit it often to see how my feelings and thoughts change.
Hell or High Water is better than Out of the Funace, but I think both may have suffered some for the seriousness with which they're presented. In the end both are pretty stock thriller material, but are presented burdened by a leaden atmosphere in lieu of emotional weight - as if apologizing for the inherent excitement of the material (or worse, though I don't think this is really the case with either film, chastising the audience for looking for thrills in the atmosphere of violence).
Which... c'mon, this is a piece of "Fuck the banks" porn, which I am whole-heartedly behind, and it is appropriately complicated by characters we can neither 100% support nor condemn, but that doesn't mean that we can't 100% enjoy the ride. Can a film be tragic and kick ass at the same time? I think Sam Peckinpah proved it so, and I wouldn't be surprised if Mackenzie or screenwriter Tyler Sheridan cited Peck as a major inspiration, but it seems to me that the real way to make a memorably complex experience is to balls-out the action and slip that sour flavor in beneath so that it's only experienced as an aftertaste that recontextualizes the whole thing.
I think that was probably the film maker's intentions and from the critical response I'd say they were mostly successful (again - I liked this movie) - the best example being the mountain top showdown - but if I were to take a stab at saying why it wasn't more successful for me my first guess would be the soundtrack.
What could have worked better?
Here's where I'd advocate going the Michael Mann/Thief route where he nixed the original idea of authentic Chicago blues for juxtaposing the blue collar workaday thieves with possibly up its own ass electronic stylings of Tangerine Dream. Yeah, a fucking techno score or even shitty pop-country music probably would have complimented the movie better than the potentially self-congratulatory picks that reaffirm the audience's good taste rather than seem a believable soundtrack for the exploits of these ground into the dust motherfuckers (kinda like that argument about the kid in Stranger Things having an Evil Dead poster on his wall in 1983 middle-America).
Font and center is Mel Gibson cast knowingly as a bad guy who's less repentant than realistic about his situation and his actions and culpability in the wreck his life has become. When his runaway daughter contacts him out of the blue for some run-money, he wants to help and may be angry with her, but is the last person to judge for stupid mistakes.
The difference between the two films for me is that Blood Father embraces its pulpiness and becomes something (slightly) more while Hell or High Water strives for more and (sometimes) succeeds. I have a feeling I'll be returning more often to Blood Father - I'll be looking at the crazy-eyed guy playing a crazy-eyed guy and thinking damn if this is his audition for the titular role in an adaptation of Benjamin Whitmer's Pike - it's fucking his.
Both films are worth your time and struggling to find an audience. Go forth.