***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Gil Birmingham
written by Taylor Sheridan
directed by David Mackenzie
by Bryant Frazer Cops and criminals may clash on desolate West Texas landscapes, but late capitalism is the real enemy in Hell or High Water. The film declares its intentions in an elaborate opening shot that follows a weary-looking woman arriving for work in the morning as a 1987 Chevy Camaro circles the parking lot in the background. (Her right wrist is in a brace, probably to fend off carpal-tunnel syndrome, that occupational hazard of retail clerks and bank tellers everywhere.) The camera catches three lines of graffiti on the side of a building--"3 TOURS IN IRAQ BUT NO BAILOUT FOR PEOPLE LIKE US"--as it dollies past before panning around more than 270 degrees to the left and pushing forward as our working woman heads towards the front of the Texas Midland Bank. Clearly visible through an architectural frame-with-a-frame created by the camera move are inlaid brick patterns in the shape of three crosses on a wall across the street. Just like that, director David Mackenzie establishes, first, the idea that the men in that blue Camaro are up to no good; second, the current of economic desperation driving screenwriter Taylor Sheridan's story; and third, the religious posturing that offers an alternative to existential despair, with roadside churches, TV evangelists, and Christian radio offering a relentless white-noise stream of piety on demand to an American underclass with nowhere left to turn.