Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham
So in a summer that’s been pretty much designed by a higher power to have fewer good movies on the big screen than not, it’s always a pleasant surprise to sit down for one that just knocks it the fuck out of the park. There’s been great movies released this year, no doubt. But they are movies that you have to do a little work to see, be it limited theatrical run or a VOD release. And in this case, it’s a movie that was limited run. And in a weird little bit of 2016 luck, two of the best movies released this summer were headed up by Chris Pine. An actor I like very much who has had a bit of a difficult time finding good work outside of the Captain Kirk role returned to that role in a knockout movie, but then jumps into a Southern Fried crime flick that just made a serious claim that it might be the best movie of the year.
The story at the heart of the movie is pretty simple. Pine and Foster play brothers who are robbing banks. They are being very cautious though, having a plan of action for a specific reason. They are robbing the bank that is foreclosing on their mothers land due to a shitty mortgage. No big bills, just loose money that’s untraceable to pay the bank back in its own money. There’s other little bits in here about the hows and whys of what they are doing, but the gist of it is is that the two brothers are basically robbing Peter to pay Peter. As they say in the movie, that’s very Texas of them. On their trail is Bridges and Birmingham, two Rangers on the case. Bridges is being forced to retire and is looking for something big to go out on. What follows is a tense, fun, breezy movie that takes a sharp turn into serious at the drop of a hat.
Right out of the gate, the acting in this is phenomenal. Pine is really great here, playing someone the complete opposite of Kirk. This is a grungy man, a decent man who has had a hard time in life but is trying to do right. Even in this act of criminality, he wants to have a code. We can see he’s a smart guy but there’s times where we see his youthful recklessness and anger come out. Foster shows off yet again what a great, immersive actor he is. After a shit showing in Warcraft earlier this year, it’s nice to see him show up to work in such a masterful movie. This role sees him as the crazy brother. Not over the top crazy, but the kinda crazy you’d see at a bar always getting into fights. He burns a little too brightly and too hot to really survive this world as a civilian. It’s a great, charismatic performance that just really helps to bring this movie a charge of tense electricity. And Bridges is here to play, after a few years of really bad and lazy blockbuster performances. He’s a man who has seen his days, and is trying to keep the job going as long as he can. There’s nothing for him outside of it. But he isn’t a crotchety old bastard about it. He busts balls with his partner and goes about the investigation with his laid back style. Despite his laid back attitude, he harbors a real intelligence that pretty much gets what is going on.
David Mackenzie is a director I haven’t heard of prior to this, despite him having a few movies on his resume. But he comes out here with a movie kicking leagues of ass. This is a visually sumptuous movie, really capturing the earth tone beauty of Texas. His shot choices are on point, managing in some of the robberies to get across how kinda anticlimactic they are, while in some getting across how tense and insane they are. And just the thematic work on display is great, which he really brings home. This is also thanks to Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter who also wrote Sicario, who is now on my (and many others) radar as one of the premiere writers in the game. Not only does he have a real great handle on characters and narrative, giving us real human beings and some very cool twists on the heist narrative, but his handle of themes is on point. He showed it off in Sicario, showing the fucked up way the American government allows the drug game to prosper, and now shows it off here. Because this is a movie that is all about the way progress manages to push people off the board. Every single person is some that’s been pushed to the side of life, the various reasons being age or wealth or race. The two thieves are poor, Bridges is being forced out of his life due to his age, his partner is a half Indian/half Mexican who understands doubly what it’s like to be of a people that have been pushed aside from the incoming hordes. This is a movie very much of a world in a recession, where there’s constant signs for easy loans and debt consolidation and store closings. It feels like a world that is dying in a way, with these two men trying their damnedest to escape the swirling drain they were born into. Every element in this movie works towards that theme and it makes the movie really rich and hefty. Not only is it entertaining as all hell, but it’s really smart too. That’s my kind of movie.
We’ve had many great movies released this year, but none of which have really been released on a massive quantity of screens for the masses to see (The Nice Guys excluded). And of all of them, they have each been very different than each other. Not a repeat pleasure in the lot. And I can say with much confidence that there is nothing else like this released all year. Hell, many years this would be a standout release. It’s a true winner in every respect. Acted to perfection, thematically rich, entertaining as all hell, and just original as sin. Everything in here is all material that I like, and they do it great. I’m very excited to see what Mackenzie has in him next, Sheridan has my fucking ticket for at least a few more movies with no questions asked, and Pine/Foster/Bridges all show off that they can still give unreal performances that don’t feel like repeats of past glories. A true masterwork that fits in nicely into the Southern genre, see this the first chance you get.