“Hell or High Water:” Cowboys, bank robberies, and Marx

by Danny Stout

961962_008 A good night of movie viewing is assured in the opening scenes. Lonely Texas towns. Barren streets and dusty horizons; a cerulean sky with billowy clouds. Then it takes off. Two young cowboys robbing banks. Two older sheriffs on the trail. Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Sherriff Jeff Bridges provide acting that suspends disbelief. Bridges burps, guzzles beer, and prefers to sit and talk. Talk includes the bank robberies and unrelenting ethnic slurring of his partner. Despite the idiocyncracies, he has a moral center.

Enjoy this as a heist crime film with Cowboy shoot-em-up action and car chases. Or psychoanalyze an old law man obsessed with the puzzle of the immoral mind. If the viewer invests more surgical analysis, we have a political piece that could be shown in a graduate class on Marxism. Intermittently, as the sage brush rolls by, we’re reminded that the banks have replaced the guns of the old west.


Underpinning the story, disclosed at the start, is a desperate attempt to prevent the closure of a family ranch. This also illustrates the philosophy of John Stewart Mill. If morality is in the outcome not the act itself, viewers will root for the robbers. In the spirit of Steinbeck, “poverty is a disease.” But, if we think like that, Bridges insists, “It will haunt us forever.”


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