Hell or High Water

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Hell or High Water Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Excellent, relevant crime drama has language, violence.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 102 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Raises some discussion about the questionable way bankers behaved during the economic crisis. Otherwise, lawlessness prevails, and vigilantism is acceptable. Bad behavior isn't necessarily punished, and the good guys don't always win.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All of the characters are painted with shades of gray, and all indulge in poor behavior that doesn't necessarily have consequences. Some racial stereotyping played for humor.

Violence

Guns and shooting, including a machine gun. Characters are shot and killed, with bloody wounds. Duct tape on a gunshot wound. Beating and punching. Bank robberies, with innocent people threatened. A man is hit in the face with a gun. Reference to a father beating his children.

Sex

Sex shown in the background; it's slightly out of focus, but it's clearly a sex act (the woman straddles the man, and her thighs are naked). A woman flirts with someone at a bar and asks him to take her to his room.

Language

Very strong language, used fairly frequent: "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "a--hole," "t-ts," "ass," "bitch," "son of a bitch," "goddamn," "damn," "pecker." And, of course, "hell."

Consumerism

Brands mentioned include Dr. Pepper, Mr. Pibb, Wal-Mart, and Winston cigarettes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters frequently drink beer. Some whisky shots. No one seems to get drunk, and there are no consequences. References to "tweakers" (i.e. people who take meth). A father offers beer to his teen son, who refuses it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hell or High Water is a powerful crime drama set in a part of rural Texas hit hard by the financial crisis of the early 2000s. Violence includes several scenes of guns and shooting; characters are killed and get bloody wounds. There's also beating and punching and people being threatened during bank robberies. Language is also strong, with frequent use of "f--k," "s--t," and more. There's a brief sex scene -- it's out of focus and in the background, but it's pretty graphic. Characters drink beer frequently and do some whisky shots, but no one seems to get drunk, and there are no consequences. Though the characters are painted with shades of gray and there are no real good guys or bad guys, older teens and adults can discuss the way Hell or High Water taps into our times and how it uses the financial crisis as a backdrop.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byGator Mangrove June 21, 2019

Human elements

Very good movie with outstanding acting. Sort of old fashioned in the sense of the outlaws being somewhat likeable and the lawmen the same. Stealing money from... Continue reading
Adult Written bySam M. April 26, 2017

Fantastic

Great story, characters, dialog, and filmmaking. A couple somewhat bloody shootings. Very brief. Brief sex scene between man with woman he just met, no nudity.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMohak February 1, 2017

Excellent film

This is one of the best films of 2016....there is some violence but its not that brutal.... People drink a lot and even gamble... one sex scene but its in the... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bykidcriticreviews September 4, 2016

An Amazing Movie

I thought this movie was really good. Parents should know there is one scene you might want to look out for. Hell or High Water had a really good story line abo... Continue reading

What's the story?

In HELL OR HIGH WATER, brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) live in a run-down, hardscrabble Texas that's been devastated by the economic crash of 2008. Tanner has spent a good portion of his life in jail, and Toby is divorced, with two sons and a lot of unpaid alimony. Their family ranch is about to be foreclosed on, so they make a plan: They'll rob banks and steal just enough to pay their debts. Unfortunately, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who's just days away from retirement, and his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham), take the case and head out into rural Texas to track the Howard brothers down. Everything leads up to a desperate showdown, with every man protecting what's his.

Is it any good?

Vivid, resonant, and brimming with life, this is a great genre movie, a film noir tapping into the uncertainties of our times, crossed with a modern Western chronicling a new brand of lawlessness. Hell or High Water captures a hardscrabble world devastated by the failing economy, where everyone is armed and there's a kind of respect for everyone except bankers. It's an alien world but also familiar. It's easy to imagine that all the characters have lives that go on after their scenes are finished.

Australian director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) brings a kind of barren beauty to the movie, and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) allows time to wonder about what the characters think and how they feel about what's going on. It's about more than thrills. Bridges and Foster are especially good, finding wiggle room between their lines for some truly exceptional acting. This is recommended for any adventurous, mature movie fans.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hell or High Water's violence. How does it make you feel? Why? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How are guns portrayed in this movie? Who has them, and how are they used? Do you think they represent anything?

  • How is drinking shown in the movie? Are there consequences? Is drinking glamorized?

  • Does the movie have any "good guys" or "bad guys"? Who were you rooting for? Is it OK to have characters with shades of gray?

  • Why are so many businesses closed -- and so many people struggling -- in this story? What happened? How does it tie in with real-life events?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love gritty stories

Themes & Topics

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