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Tag Archive: Gran Torino


hell-or-high-water

Review by C.J. Bunce

For fans of the traditional Western, Hell or High Water is a Western in name only.  Sure, it has the hallmarks:  Frank and Jesse James-inspired bank robbers, it takes place in a Western enough locale, and there’s plenty of cowboy hats and even horses and cattle.  But it’s something very different, and reviewers calling it a Western are setting the wrong expectations.  Yes, it’s closer to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven than your typical fare, but not that close.  A nontraditional Western?  Barely, maybe.  Better described it’s a drama in Western dress.  It’s also a look at a place and time: West Texas, today.  Which makes it in other ways a West Texas version of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo.  You’ll see plenty of life reflected with a Texas cultural twist.  Good and bad.  Strangely enough, if life is indeed reflected in the cinema each year, Hell or High Water is the best reflection of America to hit theaters in 2016.

In addition to the perfect Western title, Hell or High Water has the perfect imperfect hangman sheriff in its Ranger Marcus Hamilton, played by Jeff Bridges in what is yet another brilliant supporting character role.  If he hadn’t landed the Oscar for True Grit, he’d have it for this.  Bridges plays another crotchety old man, he’s days from retirement, and all soaked in his own blissful ignorance of his racism, much like Clint Eastwood’s old man in Gran Torino and Eastwood’s own take on the Texas Ranger in pursuit in the 1993 “modern Western” A Perfect World.  Bridges’ partner is the put-upon Comanche Ranger Alberto Parker, played by Gil Birmingham, an actor of actual Comanche lineage who has guest starred on numerous genre classic series including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Veronica Mars, Castle, and even Riptide.  At times Birmingham gets his Oscar-worthy moments, too, especially when he fires back at Hamilton with equally biting quips.

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The Rangers are hunting down two brothers, played by Star Trek and Wonder Woman’s Chris Pine and 3:10 to Yuma and X: Men: The Last Stand’s Ben Foster, who have a strange plan to rob a Midland Texas chain of banks because they learned the banks’ network of video recording hardware is being updated, with the added bonus of being able to launder the money through an Oklahoma casino.  The movie trailers laid out every aspect of the plot–why they need the money–more concisely than its laid out in the film, but the film is really part character study of the brothers, part indictment of the banking system, and the destruction of the family unit, and everything else wrong in the world.  To that end this is a typical drama, but it has its moments, including a quality bank robber story.

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I really like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor.  He’s in a rare group of current actors like Tom Cruise, who, no matter what he does outside acting, so long as he keeps making good movies I’ll keep showing up to watch him.

In many ways Arnold is like his Expendables and now Expendables 2 brethren, especially Sylvester Stallone, whose self-made rise to fame was a lot like Arnold’s, and Bruce Willis, who seems to churn out movies of all types like nobody else.  But Arnold is also one of those bigger-than-life/megastar/film legend/superstars who could arguably be lumped in with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  These three have a more distinctive, almost superhuman aura.  And just as Wayne and Eastwood did, it looks like Arnold is entering a distinct “third act” of his career.  You can look back and see Wayne in his B-movie days before Stagecoach, where Clint was making TV shows like Maverick and Rawhide, and Arnie was getting his sea-legs as Conan the Barbarian.  Then with their second acts they all made it to the bigtime, Wayne with John Ford Westerns and war movies, Clint with spaghetti Westerns and then Dirty Harry, and Arnold with his blockbuster action films: Predator, Terminator 1&2, and True Lies.

So what’s next?  Wayne got gruff in his elder years as highlighted in his Rooster Cogburn role.  As did Clint, even going back ten years he began this new life persona as old man, but always a modern take on what it means to be an old man.  His character as a geezer in Gran Torino is nothing like Dirty Harry or The Man with No Name, but it’s still one of his best performances.

So what about Arnold?  After his hiatus as California’s Governator, he slips back into movies this month with his bit part in Expendables 2.  But his first film returning in a leading role is due out after the holidays: The Last Stand.  Arnie’s stilted acting shown in the first trailer for the film put aside, I see some things I may like in this new action flick.

First, I loved The Rock/Dwayne Johnson in his remake of Walking Tall, co-starring Johnny Knoxville.  I didn’t think that film could be remade and I loved the result.  The plot of this film seems strangely similar.  And that’s Johnny Knoxville again… in apparently the same role!  Although–Knoxville looks a bit more psychotic than normal here.  And that’s saying a lot for the guy from Jackass and MIB 2.

Next, I really liked Sylvester Stallone’s performance as a worn down police officer caught in the middle of a culture of bad cops in the universally praised film Cop Land.  This movie, from the preview, feels like it could be a similar work for Arnold–a grizzled lawman needing to step up and take a stand, maybe the last stand, as the movie’s title would indicate.

It also reminds me a bit of Chris Cooper in Lone Star.

They are certainly not standout roles for John Wayne, but he played a cop twice toward the end of his career, in McQ and Brannigan.  And despite the dated look, both are darned good movies.  This type of role may be a good way for everyone to get back liking–and cheering for–our returning megastar.

And finally there is that Clint Eastwood gruff, cracked speech thing.  Call it tough as nails, call it dry, it is partly why we see Clint as the tough guy we see him as today.  Is this the future of the once young and pumped-up Arnold on the big screen, moving from his classic “Ah-nold” accent to a raspy smoker-like delivery?

Check out the trailer:

The Last Stand, directed by South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, hits theaters January 18, 2013.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com