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Hell or High Water: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Hell or High Water (2016) movie poster Hell or High Water

Theatrical Release: August 12, 2016 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: David Mackenzie / Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeff Bridges (Marcus Hamilton), Chris Pine (Toby Howard), Ben Foster (Tanner Howard), Gil Birmingham (Alberto Parker), Marin Ireland (Debbie Howard), Kevin Rankin (Billy Rayburn), Dale Dickey (Elsie), William Sterchi (Mr. Clauson), Buck Taylor (Old Man), Kristin Berg (Olney Teller), Katy Mixon (Jenny Ann), Amber Midthunder (Vernon Teller), Margaret Bowman (T-Bone Waitress)

Buy Hell or High Water from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD + Digital Instant Video

Veteran character actor Taylor Sheridan transitioned to screenwriting on last year's Sicario and got plenty of people's attention in the process.
He's already in post-production on his first film as writer-director, next year's Wind River. But before that and before the Sicario follow-up Soldado, we get Hell or High Water, a Cormac McCarthy-esque Texas thriller that Sheridan penned and the UK's David Mackenzie directs.

Hell or High Water is a cat and mouse tale of cops and robbers. The robbers are Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), genuine cowboy brothers who have stuck together through thick and thin. The short-tempered Tanner got out of prison a year ago. The brothers' mother has recently died and the ranch she left to Toby's estranged sons is in financial jeopardy. So, armed with guns and ski masks, the Howard boys begin robbing the small and vulnerable branches of Texas Midlands Bank. Neither brother is versed in this line of work, but they pull off two heists with little difficulty and a third with a little spontaneity.

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) make a getaway after robbing a Texas Midlands Bank in "Hell or High Water."

Instantly on the case are Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a salty old Texas ranger weeks away from retirement, and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who has to endure his partner's cracks about both his Indian and Mexican ancestry. These two pros supply the film with witty banter as they investigate the crime spree and wait for their two suspects to mess up, in the process encountering the world's most frightening diner waitress and discussing the nature of televangelists.

While there is nothing novel to a film about bank robbers and the authorities on their trail, Hell or High Water makes you forget that as it treats you to the thick atmosphere of a sultry Texas summer. Characters are painted in shades of gray and thus our sympathy is not neatly dispensed to either the lawmen or the thieves who have their understandable motives.

The excellent cast elevates the material. Pine is not someone often heralded for his characterization, but he convinces playing an individual far from his usual leading men. Foster has demonstrated his chops again and again, so it's less of a surprise but no less satisfying to spend time with his wild card. Bridges owns his character so much that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in his role. He injects enough crotchety charm to forgive his racist jokes. And Birmingham, who hasn't had this rich an opportunity before, seizes his part and gives back to Bridges almost as much as he takes.

Jeff Bridges steals the scene as Marcus Hamilton, a salty old Texas ranger weeks away from retirement.

Sheridan again displays flair in his writing, breathing life into old crime movie tropes with three-dimensional characters
and authentic details, from getaways to eyewitness accounts. Mackenzie (Starred Up, Young Adam) isn't the in-demand filmmaker that Sicario's Denis Villeneuve is, but he serves the material very well with appropriate tension and some most agreeable photography from his repeat cinematographer Giles Nuttgens.

Hell or High Water is violent and at times crude, but never without reason. This is an intense potboiler that will invite comparisons to the Coen Brothers' 2007 Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men. Warmly received at Cannes and met with near-universal acclaim from critics, the film found a nice-sized audience in theaters, grossing $27 million in a measured and surprisingly effective rollout from the usually commercially limp CBS Films. It played into the fall with strong word of mouth echoing the critical buzz.

Still one of the year's most highly regarded films, Hell or High Water isn't quite the awards longshot it initially seemed. Yes, that August opening works against it as does CBS Films' limited experience with awards. But Bridges' turn seems as worthy as anyone else I've seen in Supporting Actor competition and I feel like he could get in even if the other major Oscar categories stick to more obvious fare.

As awards screeners go out to critics and other voting organizations, Hell or High Water also hit home video just in time for Black Friday with last week's DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD editions. The bold font means I'm reviewing the latter here.

Hell or High Water: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service, Late Night Optimized English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 22, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD + Digital ($29.95 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Hell or High Water is as impressively technically as it is dramatically. The potent, cinematic presentation translates nicely to Blu-ray, with Lionsgate's 2.40:1 presentation showcasing tremendous detail and all the clarity you expect for a 2016 film on Blu-ray. The fine visuals are complemented by a satisfactory 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack, which distributes gunfire, atmosphere, and dialogue with the impact and crispness they deserve.

David Mackenzie directs Jeff Bridges on the set of "Hell or High Water." Taylor Sheridan discusses his second produced screenplay.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Hell or High Water is joined by five bonus features on both Blu-ray and DVD.
Blu-ray presents them all in HD.

The first three featurettes are pretty self-explanatory from their titles.

"Enemies Forever: The Characters of Hell or High Water" (13:36) reflects on the principals and their respective natures.

"Visualizing the Heart of America" (9:28) concentrates on both the locations filmed (New Mexico stood in for West Texas) and the way in which they are filmed.

"Damaged Heroes: The Performances of Hell or High Water" (12:24) is kind of like the first piece, but it pays more tribute to the actors embodying these characters.

Gil Birmingham is among those in attendance for the film's red carpet premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Sporting a short haircut and a sweater, Jeff Bridges looks nothing like his "Hell or High Water" character at the film's ArcLight Cinemas Q & A session.

"Red Carpet Premiere" (1:53) collects a few remarks from cast and crew attending the film's July premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.

Finally, a Filmmaker Q & A (29:51) has Time Magazine's Sam Lansky speaking with director David McKenzie, Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham at the
ArcLight Cinemas in Los Angeles for a post-screening chat about the film's making. You know what you're getting with this kind of piece, but this is a lively and fun panel.

The discs open with trailers for Blood Father, The Duel, Mechanic: Resurrection, and Sicario. "Also from Lionsgate" repeats them, but Hell's own trailer is nowhere to be found.

The main menu lays ominous piano score over silent clips from the film while listings are placed over some golden grass. The Blu-rau supports bookmarking and lets you resume unfinished playback.

The two uniquely labeled discs (title on gray on Blu-ray and something more closely resembling the cover on DVD) share a slipcovered standard keepcase with a Digital HD UltraViolet code insert. It's worth noting that the case overstates the film's runtime by a full twenty minutes. It checks in at a taut 102 minutes, not 122.

Two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) do what they can to save the family farm in "Hell or High Water."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hell or High Water remains one of 2016's best movies. Rich, gripping, and atmospheric, this modern-day western heist thriller absolutely warrants a look.

Some may be disappointed by the lack of deleted scenes and commentary, but otherwise Lionsgate's Blu-ray combo pack delights with some good extras complementing a first-rate feature presentation. It's a set that is easy to recommend.

Buy Hell or High Water from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD + Digital /Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Taylor Sheridan: Sicario | New to Disc: War Dogs Hands of Stone Army of One Sausage Party Punch-Drunk Love
Jeff Bridges: True Grit (2010) Thunderbolt and Lightfoot The Giver The Big Lebowski The Vanishing Heaven's Gate Tron & Tron: Legacy
Chris Pine: The Finest Hours Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Into the Woods This Means War People Like Us Horrible Bosses 2
Ben Foster: The Mechanic Lone Survivor Kill Your Darlings | Gil Birmingham: The Lone Ranger Rango
No Country for Old Men The Hateful Eight

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Reviewed November 28, 2016.



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