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Faith Reels: ‘Hell or High Water’ … class war + open carry = big trouble

Faith Reels: ‘Hell or High Water’ … class war + open carry = big trouble

by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster


Saddle up, we mean buckle up, for this contemporary cowboy-esque film in a desolate, poor Texas, (filmed in New Mexico) landscape. It’s all there; amateur bank-robbing brothers, pick up trucks and an impending foreclosure on the family “ranch.” Big bonus is Gillian Welch in the background singing, “I’m not afraid to die.” If you don’t know Gillian Welch’s music, get a listen from iTunes.  This film has been compared to ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ but with a 21st century twist. ‘Hell or High Water’ is a story about what happens when the society lives by the axiom, “I got mine. You get yours.”


There’s no better recent film example of a purposeful life than that of Toby Howard (Chris Pine). His trigger-happy ex-con brother, Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), plays a close second to Toby’s purpose, in a wild and intense but-without-any-second-thoughts kind of way.  This is a terrific film that shows what desperate people and their sympathizers will do when they see no hope. But the class war turns on a scene when Toby says he’s been poor all his life. So were his parents and grandparents. “Being poor is a disease”, he says. He vows his children won’t be. Robbing banks is the immediate source to solve his financial woes.  The producers use billboards and for sale signs to get the point across that the post-2008 economy in West Texas is in the tank. Jobs are gone. Foreclosure is a frequent word. This story typifies the adage, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”


Enter the Texas Rangers expertly played by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham. Bridges’ character, Marcus Hamilton, is on the verge of retirement. He uses his decades of law enforcement experience and intuition to work at solving this string of bank robberies.  The subtle (or maybe not so subtle) subtext is Texas’ open carry law. You’ve heard it before. The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That plays out often in this film with chaotic results.  There are many stereotypes articulated in this film. Those movie goers who are tired of politically correct speech these days will feel right at home. Be prepared for the banter of the Rangers, that’s where you will hear the stereotyping remarks.


This film has heart. There is a simple truth behind it all. When push comes to shove, we would probably do almost anything to protect and provide for those we love. We’re just made that way (Thank You, God). This film is guaranteed not to leave you high and dry.


Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California.  They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels



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