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HELL OR HIGH WATER and FENCES… Do either have what it takes to win an Oscar?

Posted on January 9th, 2017
Posted on January 9th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

With the Golden Globes already given out, awards season is officially in full swing. Although the Academy Awards nominations have not been released, here are reviews for two films which have already received Oscars buzz…

“Hell or High Water” – Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) are brothers embarking on a West Texas bank heist spree. Soon-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) hit the road to try and track down the unknown bank robbers. As the robberies progress, it becomes evident that the brothers have an agenda that supersedes any wealth they will accumulate from these robberies. As the Rangers close in, Toby becomes concerned about Tanner, whose increasingly reckless behavior borders on the suicidal.

While the plot for this doesn’t sound like an Oscar-caliber film, the writing is what sets “Hell or High Water” apart from most crime thrillers. The dialogue snaps and the story moves at a steady pace. It takes place in present day but the film has a 1970’s style that gives it similar look and feel to “No Country for Old Men”. Although “Hell or High Water” is nowhere near as dark as “No Country”, it appears to draw inspiration from it, especially between the characters portrayed by Bridges and Birmingham. Their chemistry is one of the more interesting parts of the film as Hamilton and Alberto spar verbally. Hamilton insults his Native American heritage and Alberto retaliates by insulting Hamilton’s age. However, their mutual respect and banter bring humor and levity to the film. One scene where they deal with a particularly ornery old burger joint waitress nearly steals the entire film.

But this is no “No Country”. A lot of the film feels derivative and stereotypical, but the charm of the acting and writing make “High Water” a worthy crime film to take a chance on. Despite the buzz, it’s not strong enough to win any Oscars, but its high quality explains why its getting so many awards whispers.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars

“Fences” – Based on a play by August Wilson, Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxon, a prideful and boisterous working man raising his family in 1950’s Pittsburgh. Stuck in his ways, Troy feels his older musician son is wasting his life and that his younger son is wasting his time trying to get a football scholarship due to his own disappointments as a young, African American athlete. His good-hearted wife, Rose (Viola Davis) tries to temper Troy’s bad attitude with reason, but Troy’s pride, bitterness and past mistakes alienate himself from those who love him.

Performances don’t get any finer. Washington and Davis are at the top of their game. I had no doubt they would deliver but as with most plays adapted into motion pictures, “Fences” is all about the performances and nothing else. There isn’t much cinematic going on here, only the character study, which is what “Fences” was intended to be.

Besides the characters, film does get pretty deep with its subtext and social commentary. “Fences” illustrates how many of the struggles African Americans have endured over the years continue today, especially where family and making a living are concerned. It’s not perfect and the character of Troy is often too unlikable to care about. His false pride, his treatment of his family and his measurement for the worth of a person is hard to stomach by reasonable standards. It’s an all-too human story and it feels painfully real. Perhaps that’s why it is a difficult film to enjoy, but the performances make the experience well worth it. It was also produced and directed by Denzel Washington and it will hold a prestigious spot on his resume, especially if it wins an Oscar or two for it.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5 stars

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