This might be the surprise movie of the year for me. I was blindsided by this. I noticed that it had a pretty high Metacritic score before walking in and nothing else. Sure, there have been other films that I was surprised by how good they were like Tickled and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but I had heard great things about them before watching. For this film, I knew nothing. I think that’s the best way to watch it and with a full theater.
The film is surprisingly hilarious. It borders racist and funny. I think the film does a great job at proving that it’s not intolerant by how nuanced the characters (especially Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges)). There were a few lines that he tells Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), his partner, during one of his many one-liners. The two of them feel like Rangers from Lubbock and felt like real people. Not only with their discussions but also their demeanors. I think it’s easy to overact a southern person like Sandra Bullock did in the Blind Side, but these actors really did make them feel like actual officers you might encounter on a trip to West Texas.
Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) steals the show. His over the top exuberance paired with his low-key brother, Toby (Chris Pine), works like magic. I don’t know if it’s something about his facial expressions, but I felt like I’d known the guy for years. Maybe we weren’t best friends, but there was something about his charismatic charm that made it feel like he was at least known by all. Foster’s performance not only sold the character. It sold the location. The film’s not even shot in Texas and it felt like it was. Tanner was the character that I felt like I was rooting for the most because Foster turns him into a likable and charming guy even when you see him commit these heinous crimes. I was fully on board with Tanner within the first 10 minutes that we’ve known the guy. The director, David Mackenzie, really kept Tanner in check but at the same time let him be the wild card of the film. I loved it.
There were several other great performances in the film by secondary characters. Katy Mixon plays the best waitress part that I’ve seen in a long time. The way that she holds her own in a male-dominated film is quite impressive. She stands toe to toe to Bridges and doesn’t back down. She changed the tone when she was on screen and I hope to see her in the future. Margaret Bowman was also great. She had the look for the part of another waitress and had a similar dominance like Mixon. Both women were great and it was amazing to see strong women in a movie that easily could have made them submissive and bring nothing to the film.
Although I liked 90% of the film, I did have some minor complaints. I did like Chris Pine in this. I liked how he was mostly mysterious and his character’s intentions didn’t get revealed immediately. It felt like you had to be fully committed to see his motives. This is the most minor of complaints: he didn’t feel like he fit because he was too attractive. There’s something about his face that didn’t get “country worn” like Foster or Bridges. I think the makeup was fine. I’m not sure if I’m thinking of him from other roles, but he just stuck out to me. I’m not sure if it was the beard. Maybe his eyes are too piercing. I’m honestly not sure. The other major complaint I had was that this whole time we’re shown the mother’s death and how it affected everyone around them. I never felt a connection to her. I think it’s mainly because we’re never even shown a picture of her which makes sense in West Texas, but I didn’t feel any emotional connection. I thought that constantly going back and forth to those scenes slowed down the film and made it over dramatic. I understand their mother just passed, but I couldn’t empathize. I wasn’t shown enough to care. She could’ve been a cardboard box and I think I would’ve cared the same amount. Not even Foster showing emotion or the score that created an amazing mood of sadness could affect me. I was just bummed that it had to keep being referenced. My last tiny gripe is with the title of the film. It is vague and a huge turn off in my opinion. I don’t know what I would replace it with, but it sounds a little too biblical and pretentious for me. I think it also creates a tone that film itself doesn’t want. I know these are all tiny and shouldn’t be a big deal. These ultimately took away a little from the film but not enough for me to dislike it.
Overall, this movie could also be an open carry commercial. It’s eloquent and charming in its own way. I enjoyed most of the humor and thought all of the performances were great. I will try my hardest to view this again by the end of the year. It was definitely worth seeing and I would recommend it to most Southern people. I think it fully understands and displays Southern culture. It’s not over the top nor does it paint the entire South as a bunch of bumbling idiots. If you’re looking for a hearty laugh or some quick fun, I would get to the theater to see this film this weekend.
Score: 7 out of 10