Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Attila – "Hate Me" (2014)

I don’t give a f*ck 
About my bad reputation

A lot of people are saying that Hell or High Water is the best movie of 2016.  

I almost agree.  Everybody Wants Some is my favorite movie of the year so far, but Hell or High Water isn’t far behind.

I say that even though the movie’s plot is based on a Bernie Sanders-ish premise that is (in the words of my high-school English teacher, commenting on the first draft of my valedictorian speech) Communistic, socialistic, and critical of parents – not to mention contrary to fact.

Here's the official trailer for Hell or High Water:

Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, the protagonist in Hell or High Water is a “justified criminal” – in the words of the TVTropes wiki, that’s “a person [who] becomes a criminal because of socio-economic reasons, or just plain horrible circumstances, and is portrayed sympathetically because of this.  Basically a person or a group of people are in dire straits and need money immediately and become bank robbers, and drug dealers out of necessity.”

In Hell or High Water, the “justified criminal” is Toby Howard (Chris Pine), a divorced father whose mother had to take out a reverse mortgage on the family farm to pay her medical bills.  Now that she’s dead, Toby has to pay off that mortgage or the bank gets the property.

Did I tell you that Toby has recently learned that there’s oil on his family farm, which makes the property vastly more valuable than anyone thought it was before his mother signed up for the reverse mortgage?

Toby doesn’t care about himself, but he wants the oil-rich farm to go to his sons so they won’t have to grow up poor like he did.  He decides to raise the cash he needs to hold on to the farm by robbing banks – not just any banks, mind you, but branches of the bank that gave his mother her reverse mortgage.  He asks his brother Tanner (Ben Foster), a hot-tempered ex-con, to help.

Ben Foster (Tanner) and Chris Pine (Toby)
“Justified criminal” movies usually feature a crime committed against an “assh*le victim” – a victim who deserves what he/she/it gets.  

A bank usually makes an excellent assh*le victim – especially if it’s a very large bank headquartered in some far away place and managed by people whose appearance and accents are very different from the justified criminal and his salt-of-the-earth neighbors.

I expected to have a problem with Hell or High Water because some of the reviews I had read made it sound like cartoonish left-wing propaganda – evil bankers engage in predatory lending so they can profit by foreclosing on poor hard-working folks who fell on hard times, until a couple of modern-day Robin Hoods show up and give them their comeuppance.

There are a number of problems with the movie’s plot.  For example, once oil was discovered on his family farm – making the property worth many times the amount of the mortgage debt owed to the bank – Toby would have had no trouble refinancing the loan . . . which means that he didn’t need to rob banks to hold on to his property.  (If you don’t believe me, go to any bank in the world and see if you can get a $45,000 loan secured by a property that produces $50,000 in oil royalties every month.  I think you’ll get that loan toot sweet.)  

Toby and Tanner rob a bank
But I’m used to having to overlook a little illogic when I go to the movies.  Sometimes the scriptwriter has to cheat a little to make the movie work dramatically. 

Hell or High Water gets really interesting when Toby’s decision to rob banks has some unanticipated – and very bad – consequences.  

The movie opens by showing what happens the first time Toby and Tanner rob a bank.  Tanner – who’s a real loose cannon – smacks a harmless old banker in the face for no apparent reason.

In this video, the director of the movie discusses the that opening scene:

Later, the boys hit a branch that was full of customers – and since the movie is set in Texas, several of those customers are carrying guns.  Toby and Tanner lose control of the situation and a full-scale firefight ensues, resulting in the death of two bystanders.

The brothers then split up.  Tanner really has nothing much to live for – a fact which he is all too aware of – so he takes a rifle and heads for the hills, hoping to draw the attention of all the lawmen who are chasing them away from Toby so Toby can get to the bank on time to pay off the mortgage and save the farm for his sons.  

Tanner is outnumbered, but he has the high ground and he’s a good shot.  He takes down a Texas Ranger with a gruesome head shot before being flanked and killed by that Ranger’s partner. 

Paying off the mortgage
At this point, we can no longer characterize Toby or Tanner as a “justified criminal.”  While it may be OK to rip off a bank that’s ripped you off, it’s hardly OK to kill several innocent people along the way.  And while it was Tanner, not Toby, who pulled the trigger, Toby knew his brother well enough that he should have anticipated that him losing control and going off the rails was a real possibility.

So while Hell or High Water may begin as a simplistic morality tale pitting a working-class hero against greedy bankers, it turns into something much more subtle and compelling along the way.

Jeff Bridges in "Hell or High Water"
The Texas Ranger who becomes Toby and Tanner’s nemesis is played by Jeff Bridges, and Bridges delivers a tour de force performance.  But I couldn’t help but wish that the producers had cast Tommy Lee Jones in that role instead.  

Bridges does a great job depicting a crusty, politically incorrect, soon-to-be-retired Ranger who is a lot smarter than he looks.  

Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of his acting chops is when he sits back and lets an even crustier and more politically incorrect waitress absolutely steal the one scene that she appears in – Bridges knows that what she is doing is magic, and he gets out of her way and lets her have at it.  

But I feel like Jones would have not only have been able to do everything that Bridges did, but also would have inhabited the character so completely that you would have forgotten that you were watching an actor.  

If yu want to know what I’m talking about, compare Bridges in True Grit to Jones in No Country for Old Men.  Bridges was very good, but Jones was perfect.

*     *     *     *     *

When New York director Sidney Lumet came to the Texas panhandle years ago to make a movie based on a book by Texas native Larry McMurtry, McMurtry was dismayed by Lumet’s utter lack of knowledge about all things Texan.  “I doubt that he’s ever had a Dr. Pepper,” McMurtry said.

By contrast, Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is a west Texas native whose script displays his broad and deep understanding of Texas culture.  Sheridan fully appreciates the significance of Dr. Pepper to Texans.

In my favorite scene in the movie, Toby and Tanner stop for gas at a nondescript convenience store.  When Toby goes inside to pay, Tanner asks him to bring back a Dr. Pepper.  

But before Toby returns, a couple of young punks with more testosterone than brains pull up to the pump.  The driver tries to stare down Tanner – who pays no attention to him – then waves a very large handgun around while berating Tanner verbally.  

You expect the volatile Tanner to pull his gun and start blasting away.  But it’s the mild-mannered Toby who returns from paying the cashier and proceeds to beat the everloving crap out of the driver.  

As the brothers drive away after the beatdown, you hear this exchange:  

Tanner:  This is a Mr. Pibb.  I asked for a Dr. Pepper.
Toby:  So?
Tanner:  Only assholes drink Mr. Pibb.
Toby: Drink up!

*     *     *     *     *

When the two punks pull up to the gas pump in the scene described above, today’s featured song is blasting out of their car stereo.

Attila is a metal band from Atlanta that formed about ten years ago.  “Hate Me” – which has truly appalling lyrics – was released in 2014 on the group’s fifth album, Guilty Pleasure.

Here’s the official music video for “Hate Me”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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