Hell or High Water 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
GOODFELLAS is one of the greatest films of all time. It’s a movie that I can spot on TV, stop whatever channel surfing I was doing, and finish it. I’m not alone in that sentiment either. I mention that because back in 1991, GOODFELLAS only won a singular Oscar and lost the Best Picture award to DANCES WITH WOLVES. It’s safe to say that the Academy made a mistake, but sometimes time is the ultimate judgement of a movie. I state this because I wonder if HELL OR HIGH WATER will become that movie that time looks fondly on.
Brothers Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) are would-be 21st century cowboys. They dress the part, but are far from being ranchers. They have no cattle to speak of and instead of livestock dotting their property; it’s beaten down appliances and rustic cars. They live in western Texas where it still feels like the 2007 market crash happened yesterday. Abandoned buildings, foreclosures signs, and high prices at the pump are common sites in their area.
Toby has a good head on his shoulders, but that doesn’t mean he’s book smart. He seems to understand that his lack of tangible job skills and collegiate intellect means he’ll become further in debt. That’s where some of his street smarts come into play as he and his brother, recently released from prison, turn to robbing banks. The duo robs small town banks, usually in towns where there is no police force. They also make themselves financially allusive by asking for unmarked bills smaller than Benjamins. Their getaway vehicles are purchased off the books and are then literally buried on their property never to be seen again. Like I said, they have street smarts.
Two others with street smarts, and book smarts, are Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham), a pair of unlikely Texas Rangers. Marcus is on the brink of retirement, but stays in the game because he loves the hunt. He’s old-fashioned in the sense that his opinions are blunt with casual racism mixed in and he pulls no punches. Despite his digs into Alberto’s mixed background, there’s a deep affection for his partner and glimmers of concern that once he retires, he won’t be able to see one of his best friends anymore. Alberto seemingly understands all this, shakes his head, laughs off remarks, and compliments his partner’s rough exterior.
It’s inevitable that these two storylines will collide and the journey is nothing short of intoxicating. There are a lot of funny, heartfelt and exciting moments that mix dread and optimism in a perfect blend. It’s a modern Western that combines grit and relatability in the form of economic turmoil. There’s a lot of tension in the form of dialogue, the robberies and in the cinematography as the third act brings tragic fireworks.
Matching the tight and crisp script is some of the best performances by its actors. This is easily Pine’s best work while veteran Bridges can certainly make a dozen more stinkers after this performance. Foster, who manages to find a way to star in a bad movie every year, is an outstanding anti-hero and should surely begin finding more Oscar worthy work with this portrayal. Birmingham is also revelation who will hopefully find better work down the road, other than CGI smash ‘em ups and subpar TV shows.
HELL OR HIGH WATER succeeds because it places more stock in emotional drama than its action. It’s top heavy in character driven storytelling, which makes the guns blazing showdown a lot more impactful. It’s a film so rich in story that are moments where you can taste and smell the drought stricken landscape our characters are fleeing through. HELL OR HIGH WATER combines for a near perfect storm of cinema, managing to not only to be easily digestible, but infinitely rewatchable. It’s a delightful crime film where the lines between good and evil, just like in real life, are blurred. Here’s to hoping it finds its forever audience, much like GOODFELLAS.
Note: the 4K part of the review is written by Brad Sturdivant
4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: The 4K video presentation of HELL OR HIGH WATER is a tricky one to review, mainly because it’s going to be debated by video enthusiasts. As with all video and audio critiques, it has a lot to do with your own perspective, which is influenced by a number of environmental factors. But I think it would be hard to argue that the 4K version of the film isn’t the best HELL OR HIGH WATER has looked. This is upgraded from a 2K master and so you get the standard upgrades in detail, specifically with closeups and in backgrounds. The problems come in during some random moments of fire or bright sunshine, where things look a little splotchy. Some will slam the video transfer for these random spots, but they’re few and far between and overall, this is a nice looking transfer. I can’t think of a 4K release that used brown as the primary color (maybe MAD MAX: FURY ROAD?) and it looks surprisingly crisp. The transfer really pops when a new color is introduced to the film, such as a character’s clothing or a new vehicle. This stood out to me more than it did on the Blu-ray. Those that have upgraded to Dolby Vision will be pleased to learn this transfer also features Dolby Vision.
Audio: The same DTS track found on the Blu-ray is featured here. It’s peculiar they didn’t upgrade the audio to Dolby Atmos.
This title was reviewed using a Samsung UBD-K8500 with a Sony XBR75X850C TV.
There are no special features exclusive to the 4K, but it does include a Blu-ray of the film.