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Hell or high water

Here’s how lawlessness & manliness might make secure the good

After doing a great job showing American manliness signing up for heroism in a democratic mode in The finest hours earlier this year–I’ll write about it soon–Messers Ben Foster & Chris Pine have teamed up again as Texan desperadoes fighting to give their family a future & the audience a startling show. See both movies–the difference between them speaks to the difference between Massachusetts & Texas, as well as the great depreciation of manliness in America in the last two generations.

The two play broken men. A savage father destroyed the family; one brother killed him & inherited his savagery, spending a good part of his life in jail; the other married, had kids, got divorced, & took care of his mother in her misery & death–he inherited the burden of the small farm. It’s hard to say what such men even live for, & it can’t be the beer. It’s unnecessary to address the matter, because nobody cares.

An incredibly humiliating injustice moves the brother who had hitherto obeyed the laws to learn to become a criminal. He enlists his criminal brother & together they turn bank robbers, because that’s where the money is. There is a lot of romance to this & you’ll get to see the sentimentality cause the cruelty to emerge. But the important thing is to notice how this story aims to rehearse the history of Texas with oil & banks.

The story talks about the brother who was jailed, but shows us the plan of the brother who had never broken the laws. It wants to show intelligence–how manliness turns crime into an attack on the principles of a society. At their worst, these men are coming back to take revenge on a society that never helped them & made their misery worse by holding out hope for them–morality & prosperity–but always just out of reach.

It’s important, too, to notice the women in the film. How quickly they turn bitter, what kind of humor they mix with their bitterness–they seem to bear the burden of the failing manliness of the men. It’s hard to say that the new inventions of prosperity are doing any good for them, & civilization only ever has one reliable ally–women.

I’m not sure there’s any thing left to subtlety in the story. The straightforward presentation fails to match the straightforward speech of the man who is as good as his word; & it fails to give the audience any experience of the helpless hatred that sometimes moves men into hell. But at least it tells no lies. The savage brother ends up with a snake by his side. There is no tragedy in American families; there is sin & the wages thereof-

This is an unfortunately stupid title. Get past that & you’ll find the year’s only famous movie that does the needful work of displaying the anguished manliness of rural poverty.