Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hell or High Water (4½ Stars)

Two brothers go on a crime spree, robbing a series of banks in small towns in Texas. They're not typical bank robbers. Instead of raiding the safes they only take money from the draws, so they only collect a few thousand dollars from each bank. They don't rob people in the banks, only the banks themselves. Most importantly, they only rob branches of the Texas Midlands Bank.

They have a score to settle. Their mother has recently died, and because she was in debt to the bank her ranch will soon be claimed. Toby Howard has discovered oil on his mother's land, and he wants his children to profit from it, so they don't have to grow up as poor as he did. The mother was in debt due to taking out something called a reverse mortgage. I had no idea what this is, and even after reading about it I have difficulty understanding all the details. It's a special type of loan only available in America, Canada and Australia. Home owners aged 62 and over can take out a loan, using their house as security, which they don't have to pay back. Each month the interest is added to the loan balance. When the person dies the bank takes possession of the house, unless the relatives are able to pay back the complete loan immediately. To me this seems like a dirty trick for banks to get their hands on houses they want, and that's how the Texas Midlands Bank is portrayed in the film: a greedy institution exploiting the poor.

The boys have a perfect plan to launder the money they steal. They take it to an Indian casino in Oklahoma and buy chips. They bet a few dollars, and then they cash out the chips with a cheque written by the casino, so that the whole amount looks like winnings. They then deposit the money at the Texas Midlands Bank, and when they have enough they use the money to pay off their mother's debts.

But every plan, however perfect, runs into problems. The two brothers are pursued by a Texas Ranger who's three weeks from retirement and wants to end his career with a big success.

This is a gritty film, set in abysmally poor towns in Texas. The action comes in bursts when you least expect them. It's impossible not to feel sympathy for the robbers, fighting back against the power of the banks.

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