Welcome back, Mr. Bridges. I feel like you’ve been gone so long. 2009 FINALLY delivered you that long overdue acting Oscar (for “Crazy Heart”), and then you followed that up with your smashing, Oscar-nominated Rooster Cogburn in 2010’s Coen Brothers remake of “True Grit” (I would’ve switched the winning years, btw…but, whatever). Where have you been since? I mean, you didn’t want me to watch those lousy sci-fi movies, did you? Because they looked like crap. Sorry. Oh, I heard you in “The Little Prince” a few weeks back. That was pretty good. Other than that, it’s been a long six years. I’ve missed you!
The Howard brothers are robbing banks, all around a dust-blown Texan landscape. These small, dirt-water towns seem to be places that time forgot. But the big banks are there…and they occasionally scoop up people’s land. Divorced father Toby (Chris Pine…his best work?) is the “clean” one. He doesn’t want violence, he just wants the money to retrieve his family’s foreclosed property. Tanner Howard (Ben Foster…smack dab in his comfort zone) is the live wire ex-con, and we quickly learn to not know what to expect from him. Soon-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Mr. Bridges…astonishing) is tracking their pattern though. He’s crusty, old school, learned, and sharp. And although he peppers his Native American partner (Gil Birmingham…solid as Alberto Parker) with racist barbs, we’re certain his heart is in the right place, and that he’ll have more than one opportunity to show it. Especially when bloodshed and tragedy strike.
Mr. Bridges has one late film gesture ALONE, that had me wanting to simply hand him the Academy Award. What follows THAT is the most intense and emotional revenge sequence, since Chingachgook tracked down Magua, in 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans”. Read that as overwhelming praise. Listen, when he’s at the top of his game, Jeff Bridges is still one of the finest film actors on the planet. David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” is crackling entertainment. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is one of finest of the year. Okay, at times the film is just a bit too easy and familiar (“No Country for Old Men”, anyone?). Plus, there’s a major plot point soft pedaled, and the finale is a bit too pat. But whenever Mr. Bridges is on-screen, it’s difficult to NOT forgive any minor missteps. He’s THAT good. Maybe statue #2 good, come February 26th.