Hell or High Water (Blu-ray) (2016)

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Released 8-Feb-2017

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Drama Featurette-Enemies Forever: The Characters (13:34)
Featurette-Visualising the Heart of America (9:26)
Featurette-Damaged Heroes: The Performers (12:22)
More…-Filmmaker Q & A (29:51)
Featurette-Red Carpet Premiere (1:54)
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Madman Propaganda x 6 (14:30)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2016
Running Time 101:48
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By David Mackenzie

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jeff Bridges
Chris Pine
Ben Foster
Gil Birmingham
JP Howard
Marlin Ireland
Katy Mixon

Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Hell or High Water hits the ground running. Before the opening credits two banks in West Texas are robbed by two balaclava wearing men with pistols who take only small, untraceable bills out of the cash drawers. One of the robbers is aggressive and menacing, the other much quieter. The two men are brothers Tanner Howard (Ben Foster), the aggressive one, and his younger brother Toby (Chris Pine). Tanner had been in gaol previously for armed robbery while Toby remained on the run down family farm looking after their terminally ill mother, who has since died. The farm is now heavily mortgaged to the bank, which is about to foreclose. Toby also owes alimony to his ex-wife Debbie (Marlin Ireland) for their two sons. Desperate to have something to leave to his sons, Toby has enlisted his brother’s help to rob banks to get the money to pay out the bank mortgage!

     Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is about to retire but sees catching the bank robbers as a final hurrah to his career. With his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), a half Native American, half Mexican who Marcus constantly teases about his heritage, the Rangers begin to track the brothers down, gaining clues due to Tanner’s impetuosity and diversions from Toby’s meticulous planning. When the final robbery turns into a shoot-out and a bloodbath, the brothers’ hours are numbered.

     From Scottish director David Mackenzie, the smallish budget modern western Hell or High Water has been a commercial and critical success. Having Jeff Bridges (nominated for Oscars seven times, including for this film, winning for Crazy Heart (2009)) and Captain Kirk Chris Pine in the leads does not hurt, nor does a script by Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan. Hell or High Water was nominated for three Golden Globes (Best picture, supporting actor (Jeff Bridges), and screen play), repeating these three nominations and adding a forth, for editing, at the Oscars, but ultimately it came up empty in all categories. It is a western, a heist film, a police drama and an action film, although at its core Hell or High Water is a film about two sets of “brothers”, one set on each side of the law, and a lament for the crippling debt which is destroying the small towns of the American west.

     In Sicario Sheridan showed that he could write morally ambiguous characters and complex interrelationships. In Hell or High Water there is not the moral ambiguity: the Texas Rangers are not corrupt, or with dark deeds in their past (as far as we know) while Tanner Howard has no doubts about who he is; he likes robbing banks. Toby Howard is more equivocal: he robs banks driven by unemployment, debt and his determination to leave something to his two sons so that they will not have to endure the some cycle of debt and desperation as he faced. The brothers do realise that they are unlikely to get away with what they are doing which gives the film a sense of bleakness and, indeed, inevitability. The complex relationships between the two sets of men are, however, in full view. Ben Foster and Chris Pine get more screen time and the quiet moments between them are well acted and emotional. The Rangers have less time, and although we know the ethnic jibes by Bridges mask his genuine affection for his younger partner, they still feel heavy-handed.

     Indeed, the scripting of Hell or High Water is heavy-handed in other ways. One does really not need the recurring images of empty and deserted buildings and machinery or billboards advertising loans to know that these are bad times in the Midwest for many people. In addition a number of scenes, including the speech by Gil Birmingham about the whites stealing the Comanche lands which now, three generations later, are being stolen from them by the banks, sound and feel clunky.

     However, these quibbles aside, for most of its running time Hell or High Water is gripping viewing. The four leads are excellent, their interrelationships, especially between the Howard brothers, interesting, the action sequences loud and chaotic and the mid-west endless, flat farm-scapes, often with drilling rigs, the expansive skies (with New Mexico standing in for Texas) and desolate towns having a compelling beauty. The film starts on the run with the first robberies and really does not stop until the climax, after which the final scene is clever and open-ended, and may be read in a number of ways.

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Transfer Quality


     Hell or High Water is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This is a film with a muted colour scheme, brown tones predominating in the endless dry grasslands, empty towns and deserted buildings. Skies are light blue although sequences at sunset have a glossy yellow glow. Detail throughout is firm, blacks and shadow detail are very good, brightness and contrast consistent, skin tones natural.

     Artefacts and marks were absent.

     English captions for the hearing impaired are available in a clear white text.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio choices are English DTS-HD MA 5.1, English LPCM 2.0 and English descriptive audio (Dolby Digital 2.0).

     The dialogue is not always clear so the subtitles helped. There are a number of effective silences while elsewhere the surrounds and rears were used for voices in the casino, engines and the music, bursting into life with loud gunshots during the action. The sub-woofer added resonance to the gunshots, engines and the music.

     The atmospheric score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is excellent and is nicely augmented by a number of country rock songs.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Enemies Forever: The Characters (13:34)

     Using film footage, on set stills and interviews with director David Mackenzie, cast members Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and a couple of producers, this extra covers the plot, the interrelationships between two pairs of men, the story and the characters. Note: there are major plot spoilers in this extra!

Visualising the Heart of America (9:26)

     Covers the look of the film, including the landscapes and colour design, and the decision to use real locations, not sets. Uses film footage, stills and contributions from the director, screenwriter, two producers, the production designer Tom Duffield and cast member Ben Foster.

Damaged Heroes: The Performers (12:22)

     This extra looks at the character of the brothers, the casting, the themes of the film and the shooting style of director David Mackenzie using film footage, stills and contributions from the director, two producers, the four principal cast plus other cast members JP Howard, Marlin Ireland and Katy Mixon.

Filmmaker Q & A (29:51)

     Director David Mackenzie and cast members Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham on stage in Hollywood after a screening of the film. The discussion is chaired by Sam Lansky of Time Magazine who asks all the questions; there is no audience participation. The Q & A includes discussion about the inspiration for the film, the cast, working with each other, contemporary America and the film’s themes.

Red Carpet Premiere (1:54)

     Sort of a trailer with extra footage of cast and crew at the film’s premier in Austin, Texas in July 2016.

Theatrical Trailer (1:24)

     I checked this trailer on two devices and on each it played without any sound. I have seen this trailer, with sound, on other Madman releases so I’d say that this is an authoring error.

Madman Propaganda (14:30)

     Trailers for Rams, 99 Homes, Mississippi Grind, A Perfect Day, The Salvation, Nightcrawler and Life of Crime.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A US release of Hell or High Water has Spanish subtitles and a DVD included. It misses out on the theatrical trailer and of course the Madman propaganda, but is otherwise identical to our Region B version.


     Despite some heavy-handedness, Hell or High Water is a superior character driven modern western action / drama with an impressive cast in great form. Jeff Bridges received all the nominations, and is good in a role that does not really tax his acting chops. However, the main focus of the film is the relationship between the Howard brothers and here Ben Foster and Chris Pine certainly deliver. Foster‘s is the more straightforward role and he does it with verve but for me Pine is the standout adding a nuance to Toby that is impressive. Fans of any of the actors or of the genre will find a lot to like in Hell or High Water.

     The video and audio are very good. The extras are decent and add some insights into the filmmakers’ intentions.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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