For the past decade or so, film exec Franklin Leonard has published something he calls the Black List, a list of 10 of the best scripts that have yet to see the light of day. Back in 2012, Taylor Sheridan's script, then called Comancheria, topped his list. Shot last year in eastern New Mexico, the resulting movie, rechristened Hell or High Water, opens area-wide on Friday. It might not fit with the rest of the summer's big blockbusters, but it's a compelling character study that delivers plenty of suspense.
The film centers on two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who start robbing banks so they can prevent the foreclosure of their family's Texas farm. Actor Gil Birmingham who, along with veteran actor Jeff Bridges, plays one of the two Texas Rangers who aims to stop the brothers, says the movie immediately appealed to him once he read the script.
"The writing — it's so brilliantly written," Birmingham says via phone when asked about what made him want take the role. "And who wouldn't want to work with an icon like Jeff Bridges?"
Like his character in the film, Birmingham is Native American. In the film, he takes some ribbing from his partner Marcus (Bridges), a veteran law enforcement official who operates on instinct, but while making the movie, Birmingham and Bridges really bonded.
"He was great," he says of Bridges, who plays Marcus as a cranky son of a bitch who struggles to accept his forced retirement. "We got together in preproduction for a week. The first thing we had in common was our music.
"He has his band, and I play music, so we did a lot of jamming. We have similar philosophical views. We had chemistry naturally before we started filming."
Not your stereotypical heist movie, the film fully develops the characters of both Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster), two brothers with different temperaments. The more rational of the two, Toby, carries himself more cautiously; the hot-headed Tanner shows little restraint as the two hold up banks in small Texas towns while wearing masks and wielding shotguns.
The ambiguous ending works simply because it seems so realistic. Bad guys don't always lose, and good guys don't always win.
"I hope that it stimulates some kind of discussion about the moral issues and the choices we make in life," Birmingham says when asked about what he hopes viewers take away from the movie. "These two brothers find themselves up against the wall and feel like their destinies have been altered by powers beyond their control, and they're desperate to provide for their families. You can also see the consequences that come out of that if you make bad choices and choose violence as the option."