A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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 ...
How are guns portrayed in this movie? Who has them, and how are they used? Do you think they represent anything?
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?
- In theaters: August 12, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: November 22, 2016
- Cast: Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges
- Director: David Mackenzie
- Studio: CBS Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence, language throughout and brief sexuality
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.