hell_high_waterHell or High Water and Blood Father are both about characters, who, for the most part, have been marginalized and forgotten by the system, each finding different ways to survive amidst the fringes of society. Both films capture how violence is a permanent stain that marks us and our families for generations, each exploring the cost of crime and a dog-eat-dog mentality that perpetuates a cycle of self-destruction. Hell or High Water is the masterpiece of the two films, a modern western that confronts head-on a broken financial system meant to keep people forever in debt. Blood Father takes on a meta-twist with its brutal redemption story, a great turn in which Mel Gibson feels as if he’s suffering, on screen, for his past, publicized misdeeds. It’s fast, fun and unflinching. Though both films use similar circumstances to talk about different things, they’re both gripping crime dramas that maintain an undeniable human touch.

Hell or High Water features a divorced dad named Toby (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother, Tanner (Ben Foster). After the death of their mother, the two are desperate to save their family’s ranch, attempting a focused blitz on the small chain of banks threatening to foreclose on their land. The stakes are personal, with Toby trying to secure a future for his family, while Tanner relishes the thrill of it all, welcoming the chance to do right by his brother. After setting their plan into motion, a fierce Texas Ranger named Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) set the brothers in their sights, with director David Mackenzie finding accessibility through some unexpected humor and a hypnotic pace. The performances are easily career highs from everyone involved.

There’s a lot going on in Mackenzie’s film, which takes a simple premise and adds sharp moral and cultural complexities. Mackenzie’s characters meet in the middle, united by their fight against time. Toby is looking towards his legacy while Tanner is trying to make up for lost time. Marcus is facing mandatory retirement while Alberto is forced to protect a way of life which didn’t spare his ancestors. Mackenzie (armed with an economical script from Taylor Sheridan) really finds his footing by celebrating the moments between the frames – quiet, introspective scenes before the gun fights or moments of violent retribution. The film finds unbearable tension through this restraint, building up to the torrent of chaos we know is coming by investing us in the lives that hang in the balance. It’s through this that the film feels totally lived in, with cinematographer Giles Nuttgens’ photography contrasting intimate conversations with Texas’ vast, barren landscapes. As the film assuredly builds to an explosive conclusion, Mackenzie uses modern social context to highlight the diminishing cost of a life amidst capitalist America.

blood_fatherBlood Father, on the other hand, is about an ex-con now two years sober by the name of Link (Mel Gibson). Trying to make a new life for himself, he keeps close company with his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) and is keen to stay off the bottle, never missing a check-in with his parole officer. That’s all turned upside down, however, when his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) comes back into his life, herself, wanted by a notorious drug cartel. Link, who was never been there for his daughter isn’t about to let her slip through his fingers again, and will stop at nothing to ensure her safety. The film plays out like an extended chance sequence, one that finds Gibson at his best, leaving us to wonder how incredible Fury Road would’ve been with him at the fore.

Without a doubt, this is a film that fully capitalizes on Gibson’s checkered past, using it to fuel a story about a broken man looking for a second chance. Tons of his dialogue can be taken literally, with Link fully accepting and embracing his past in order to move forward. Through this, Gibson gives a totally sincere performance that could only happen now. It also makes us remember why the man was once a giant star, with eyes that are full of conviction and a stare that lets us know that he isn’t afraid to let loose when push comes to shove. In addition, Jean-Francois Richet keeps a tight leash on the action and plot (including some well-orchestrated mayhem), allowing the characters and some ballsy action sequences to really breathe. By the end of it all, the film is a brisk, totally entertaining ride that stuns with both its grit and Gibson’s fiery, heartfelt persona.

Together or apart, both of these films are thrilling, textured portraits of broken characters protecting what little they have left. Hell or High Water is one of the year’s absolute best, with searing chemistry from Ben Foster and Chris Pine bringing a critical look at a problem with no immediate solution. Blood Father isn’t tethered to the same realism as High Water, but stands as excellent escapism, a high-octane thriller packed to the brim with guns, choppers, maniacal hitman and Mel Gibson’s unmissable performance. Both of these are definite must-see’s, with anti-heroes that lend more depth to their respective genres.

SG