Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hell or High Water’s Details Delight

Delight is often found in details: a bird’s trill on a misty morning, a Monarch sipping nectar from a bright flower, or an infant’s tiny hand wrapped around a calloused finger. Hell or High Water is rich in details that tell so much story.


Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography


Signs are great details in Hell or High Water.

As the Howard brothers drive Texas roads, the camera lingers on road signs reading Foreclosed, For Sale, and Closed. Without setting the film in a particular year or referencing the 2008 economic collapse attributed to banks, Hell or High Water provides a rich socio-economic context.

A different sign tells of wide open, empty spaces on the Texas prairies. It's a road sign pockmarked with bullet holes, a country pastime for young fools and drunk drivers. It’s a show of disrespect and of misplaced marksmanship.

Vigilante justice is another great detail used in Hell or High Water.

In fact, Hell or High Water features plenty of firearms, not just those used by the bank robbers, but those carried every day. Tanner Howard, one of the bank-robbing brothers portrayed in the film by Ben Foster, says “conceal carry permits” sure complicate bank robbing. Every Texan is ready and most are armed to see justice done.

In that environment, the Howard brothers are pursued by a pick-up truck posse, and they fire at the bad guys while they run. They only turn back when Tanner Howard confronts them with a bigger, automatic weapon with a big magazine.

Nature is another terrific detail in Hell or High Water.

One of the finer scenes says even more about tough men surviving an unforgiving, vast land. A huge prairie fire stalls the progress of two Texas Marshalls. Thick black smoke boils above simmering flames marching across the plains toward the Brazos River. Riding parallel are cowboys herding cattle toward the same river.

One Marshall asks if he shouldn’t call in the fire and bring some help for those boys. The old marshall, played flawlessly by Jeff Bridges, says “no,” as there’s no one to call and even if there were, the fire is too large, too powerful for nearby brigades to beat it back. Only the Brazos River will decide. It will smother the fire or save the cattle in such big, empty country where resources are few. A man must rescue himself in such country. And that is an excellent metaphor for the law-breaking protagonists waging war against the banks that beat them.   

They live on hard ground exacting hard consequences, inspiring dire deeds. Just details that open whole stories for our consideration.

Reading Challenge:

Read the excellent Hell or High Water.

Writing Challenge:

Write details that unfold whole stories.