Two gruff men in their late thirties burst into a bank, pistols in hand, yelling, “This is a robbery!” The men and women get on the floor, hushed, and wait a few seconds. Then a brave civilian pulls out his own pistol and starts firing.
You couldn’t get much more Texan than that — but what if I told you that scene was from a movie coming out in theaters this weekend? Hell or High Water isn’t just a Cops & Robbers modern-day Western, it’s also arguably pro-Second Amendment. From start to finish, the movie has a firm “stand your ground” atmosphere that conservatives should love.
The story follows two brothers, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his older brother Tanner (Ben Howard), who turn to robbing banks during hard times in East Texas. They’re smart about it, which makes it hard on rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).
As one bank heist follows another, the audience learns more about the motivations behind them, and like any good Western, the film builds to a satisfying climax — a shoot-out of epic proportions.
Hell or High Water excels at humor and character development. Tanner’s recklessness contrasts beautifully with his brother Toby’s caution, just as Hamilton’s gruff insults play well with the silent professional Parker.
Hamilton has the perfect partner for racist insults: the half Native American, half Mexican Parker. His race jabs are particularly funny when they prove completely false — he calls this Christian Rock-loving Roman Catholic a Native American spirit-worshipper, among other things. Yet Parker has own jabs about his aged partner’s looming retirement, and his desire to go out in a blaze of glory.
Meanwhile, Tanner has just gotten out of prison (for bank robbery!) and Toby has to balance his family with this very illegal line of work. Mix in prostitutes, sexy hotel clerks, casinos, and copious amounts of alcohol, and you get yourself an action-packed dystopian romp complete with shootouts and what amounts to a blood feud.
The acting is stellar. Jeff Bridges (Iron Man 2008) fully came into his own as the gruff, old ranger — eclipsing his performance in True Grit (2010) in a role that seemed tailor-made to his persona. Gil Birmingham (Twilight 2008) also shines as the ranger’s partner. Chris Pine (Star Trek 2009) presents the cautious, conflicted, and distanced father while Ben Foster (310 to Yuma 2007) makes a wonderful reckless older brother. This is one major reason the film has a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
This epic Western also has an unsettling backdrop, however. As the movie opens, graffiti reads, “3 tours in Iraq but no bailout for people like us.” There’s a widespread assumption that the banks these boys rob have got it coming, and that the poverty of East Texas is due to predatory loan policies.
At the scene of the crime, ranger Hamilton asks a man if he witnessed a robbery. The man says he “watched the bank gettin’ robbed — it’s been robbin’ me for thirty years.” A legal advisor tells the boys the bank gave their mother a mortgage loan: “just enough to keep your momma poor, thought they could swipe her land.”
This mistrust of the banking system gives an air of vigilante justice to the robbers. Hamilton even mentions how Texans stole the land from Native Americans, and the bank stole the land from them, and Tanner’s greatest moment comes as he takes back what is his (?) and declares himself “Lord of the Plains.”
Yet this vigilante justice is really injustice, and that becomes terrifyingly clear when the shooting starts.
That scene with a brave civilian firing his pistol ends in a few epic shoot-outs: one featuring a gang of Texas boys — unaffiliated with the police — pulling out their firearms and taking shots at the robbers. This scene of pure Second Amendment vigilante justice — answering the gruff “justice” of bank robbery — perfectly captures the conservative response to lawbreaking: be armed and you’ll stay safe.
At the beginning of one robbery, Toby asks, “You got a gun on you, old man?” The Texas gaffer answers, You’re damn right I got a gun on me. Y’all are gonna steal my gun, too?” That attitude — “you’re damn right I got a gun” — is what makes this powerful modern Western a great movie for Second Amendment fans.
Hell or High Water may have a negative message about banks and the free market, but it’s right on point when it comes to guns and self-defense. It also has the virtue of being a stellar film with an engrossing story that’s surprisingly hard to predict. I heartily recommend it.
Check out the trailer on the next page!