In the great new film "Hell or High Water," one of the first things you see is a wall in a dusty
It's a wall of a bank, a dirty white wall baked in the sun. And spray-painted on it in a red the color of dried blood is this:
"3 tours in
That's the axle of this film and the spine of it, and I haven't seen a better movie in a long time.
"Hell or High Water" is a lean pulp Western story of two brothers who turn to bank robbery to save the family ranch from the bankers.
I won't put any spoilers in here, except that when it's done you might have a hankering for a medium rare T-bone steak. And just maybe you'll want some old, sassy roadhouse waitress to mock you when you're ordering.
There's also a small role for one of my favorite actresses,
Here, Dickey plays a bank clerk, robbed and told to sit on the floor. She's only on the screen for a bit, but those dry sunken eyes have seen much pleading from hardworking people who never got a bailout from the establishment that runs this country.
Hers is an amazing face, pinched and worn with life behind her, and I can see Dickey in some film I'll make up right here just for her: as a woman of the West during World War I, some picture about sisters trying to survive on a dry scrabble ranch out on the high plains, with their men gone to
And maybe a mountain lion. Or a man.
She'd be great in it.
The thing is, I like Westerns, but too few good ones are made, perhaps because the politics are all wrong.
The Western is a classic American art form about the iconic man alone, the individual against nature and the sins of men. These days our culture's heroes are bureaucrats who take meetings and talk into headsets while ordering up satellite surveillance.
Why do I like Westerns? It's not the horses or the six guns. So I can't say exactly, except perhaps that by definition the Western mocks the moderns who watch them, since the Western is a celebration of the nation we think we used to be.
You have your favorites, and so do I, though I figure "Shane" would be up there on your list, and
"Lonesome Dove" was a TV series, not a movie, but it was a fine book, and it belongs with the classic Westerns too, like "No Country for Old Men" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales," and "Hombre" and "Unforgiven."
And "Hell or High Water" belongs right up there with them.
Not everyone agrees with me. There was a mincing slapdown of "Hell or High Water" in The New Yorker the other day, so I just knew this picture would be worth the price of a ticket, and it was.
When it was over, we walked out of the theater and all I wanted to do was sit and smoke in quiet for a time. This wasn't a pie-and-talk movie.
After some movies, you have pie and coffee and everybody talks excitedly about this scene or that one, this superhero or that one, all that eye candy and those amazing CGI chariot horses, or the metal encased breasts of some alpha-female warrior, or how
But "Hell or High Water" isn't that kind of picture. It's not a big picture. It's a small picture, really, although the desperation of Americans ignored by the establishment is quite large.
All this is explained by two
How the West was taken from the Native Americans who lived there, and now the grandchildren of the takers are having it taken away from them by bankers fat with federal bailout cash.
It is that graffiti on the wall that begins it all, desperate Americans reduced to spray paint to amplify their voices that are too often ignored.