Hell and High Water for Comanches

DATELINE:  Move Over, McMurtry


Looking for all the world like a Larry McMurtry story about the modern West, or one of those films of Martin Ritt, the new movie with Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, and Chris Pine, stands out on the barren landscape.

It’s not wrong to put it on a short list with No Country for Old Men.

High or High Water features a highly intelligent script, with motifs of billboards along the highway—and the repeated issue of rednecks being smart.

It does not hurt to have parallel storylines:  two bank-robbing brothers and a modern version of Lone Ranger and Tonto on their tail. Therein is a sharply focused tale.

Foster and Pine give performances as the brothers that suggest acting DNA is thicker than high water. Bridges outpaces Tommy Lee Jones at his laconic, sarcastic best to interplay with his Indian companion and fellow Ranger.

The old Ranger wants to outsmart the desperado brothers, looking to his last case before retirement. The brothers want to outsmart the banks and legal system. It smacks of an earlier time, and one witness is surprised that robbers are not Mexicans.

Minor characters may be the best barometer of fate. There is a kind of friendly camaraderie among the West’s denizens—which leads the Bridges character to comment “how much I love West Texas.”

Like the stories of McMurtry a generation ago, we see how much fate is in the genes of character. Directed with sharp clarity by David McKenzie, the film was called originally Comancheria—after the tribe and region where the Native Americans set the bar for Westerns.

This modern Western rises above that high water mark.