CGB Review of Hell or High Water

I don’t know about you, but if I was at the bank and Chris Pine came in to rob us, I’d be so focused on those beautiful blue eyes of his that he’d take all my money.

This is my review of Hell or High Water!

hell-or-high-water-trailer

Toby Howard is a divorced father who robs banks with his volitale brother Tanner in order to gather more than enough money to pass on to his [Toby’s] young sons and ex-wife. After the death of their ailing mother, Toby and Tanner  Along the way, the dysfunctional Howard brothers must avoid two Texas rangers, Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), who are on their trail.

The Hits
Chris Pine and Ben Foster have incredibly believable chemistry as brothers who both love and hate each other.  Toby’s strong, silent demeanor and Tanner’s violent energy play off one another very well.  I do think the biggest standout has got to be Ben Foster as the loose-cannon Tanner.  A self-serving former inmate with nowhere else to go and no one willing to stand by him, the only unselfish act that Tanner is capable of is helping out his brother and even then, he does so on his own terms and by his own means.
Jeff Bridges is basically playing Jeff Bridges, but by golly, he sure does a good job at it!  Like Pine and Foster, Bridges and Birmingham also have an enjoyable rapport.  Granted, Marcus “bonds” with Alberto via jokes about Native Americans, but they look out for one another and appreciate each other’s company.  In a way, their dynamic resembles Toby and Tanner’s; Marcus is loose and lacks filter, while Alberto is more collected and prudent. I really appreciate how the familial bond between Toby and Tanner and the professional bond between Marcus and Alberto mirror each other.
The script exercises subtley very well.  No one goes on an expositonal spiel, plot points aren’t blatantly spelled out; rather the visuals and the character interactions do the talking.  The writer of last year’s “Sicario” also wrote the script for this film and it’s clear that he knows plenty about rural living, hence he uses that knowledge to great effect here in this movie.  Speaking of which, like “Sicario,” the camerawork here is excellent!  The opening scene is one long tracking shot that builds the suspence perfectly.  One shot I profoundly remember is of Toby and Tanner messing around with each other in the waking hours of dawn; we mostly see their silhouettes against a brightening sky, which illustrates the dark and light aspects of their relationship.

The Misses
If you’ve seen the film’s trailer, they build up the Texas Midland Bank as the main antagonist.  However, in the actual movie, Texas Midland Bank is more of an indirect antagonist than a direct and active one.  We learn that the bank cheated Toby and Tanner’s mother before she died and it’s clear that the Bank is a player in Toby’s financial issues, but these revelations are presented to us after the fact, so the Bank’s presence as an antagonistic force carries little weight.   This would not have been an issue had the trailer focused more on Toby and Tanner’s run from Marcus and Alberto.

Overall, Hell or High Water is an intriguing slow burn, a carefully-crafted character study of both cops and robbers.  Despite that one small hiccup about the fictional bank, Hell or High Water rests on the shoulders of stunning cinematography, nuanced storytelling and the thoughtful performances from its leading men.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.

A Mother’s Love: Saint Monica

I was sixteen-years old when I was going through the Confirmation program. When it came time for me to pick a saint, I was torn between all the single saintly ladies: Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena were my top picks, but so were Agnes of Rome, Maria Goretti, and Cecilia.  Joan of Arc is cool, but Lucy of Syracuse is like a sister to me.  Then there’s my parish patron Kateri Tekakwitha to consider, but then again, Faustina Kowalska is the patroness of the Divine Mercy!  AAAAHHHHH!!!!
As you can see, I was quite stressed.  So many awesome ladies to choose from and I only had so much time.  I remember flipping through my Saints book in a panic.  I ended up dropping it and watched it cracked open on the tile.  When I picked it up, I saw the page on Saint Monica.
I skimmed through her chapter, “She doesn’t seem very interesting.”  She wasn’t a soldier like Joan or a martyr like Lucy, Maria or Agnes.  I put Monica on the backburner for a while.
However, the longer I resisted, the more she crept up on me.  One night I went online and read up on Monica.  I scratched my head, “God, why should I pick her?  We have nothing in common.”
At first glance, Monica and I were incompatible as candidate and patron.
She was a married woman.  I am single.
She lived in Africa.  I am a born-and-raised California girl.
She was an obedient old woman.  I am a headstrong young woman.
In spite of all these differences between us, I couldn’t bring myself to click out of her info page just yet.  So I sighed and took a second look at her story.

Saint Monica portrayed by actress Monica Guerritore in Restless Heart.
Saint Monica portrayed by actress Monica Guerritore in Restless Heart.

Saint Monica was born in 331 AD in Tagaste, which is now known as Souk Ahras, Algeria.  Not much is known about Monica’s childhood, but we do know that she was born after Constantine legalized Christianity.
You may have noticed that in a lot of my Saints bios, many of these guys and gals were either in arranged marriages (ex. Cecilia) or were arranged to be married to somebody (ex. Lucy).  Monica is no exception.
She was twenty-two (a year younger than me) when she was betrothed to a Pagan man named Patricius.  By all accounts, Monica was a generous and obedient girl, so she was married off without hesitation.
To put it simply, Monica got a pretty raw deal because Patricius was the biggest jerk in Tagaste.  Violent, with an explosive temper, he verbally and physically abused Monica during his outbursts.  To add insult to injury, he was the kind of guy who would be a regular Ashley Madison customer if he lived in the year 2015.  Oh, and did I mention that his mother/Monica’s mother-in-law also worse than Nurse Ratchet from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?”  Needless to say, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Ditch this guy, Monica,” but divorce court wasn’t a thing in AD Tagaste.  These were the days where a man could leave his wife if she wasn’t a virgin, but a woman was stuck with a hot-headed cheater.
Monica was a Christian and she was especially drawn to Christianity’s emphasis on kindness and humility.  She was also very smart, so she figured that if she couldn’t leave Patricius, she would kill him with kindness.  She knew she couldn’t fight back when he hit her because she would end up on the streets as a beggar woman, so she said her prayers aloud, ignoring him as he stormed off.   When he came home after visiting one of his “lady friends,” Patricius scratched his head when he saw a lavish meal prepared for him by the wife he was betraying.
Monica’s charitible approach won over Patricius’ respect and admiration, to where his punches became less frequent and he began walking out of the room instead of screaming at her.

Monica had three children with Patricius; Augustine, Navigius and Perpetua. There’s very little info on Navigius and Perpetua (I did find out that Navigius entered the monastery), but Augustine–oh, yes–there is a plethora of info on Augustine.  Why?  Because her Augustine just so happens to be THE great Saint Augustine of Hippo.  What a twist!
Monica did the best job she could at raising her children in the faith, but remember, Patricius was an aggressive Pagan and it was his way or the highway. Augustine was the oldest son and it’s not uncommon for the oldest son to gravitate towards his father.  This means that Augustine was very much his father’s son in his actions…and in his beliefs.
Monica knew that her son was a fast-learner, but her heart broke when she saw how disinterested he was in her Christian faith.  She was even more distressed when she realized that Paganism was more enticing to her impressionable son.

After years of being bound to his sinful ways, Patricius converted to Christianity on his deathbed.  However, Monica still had one more thing to do: Save her Pagan-party boy son!  (Plays Superman theme music)
When Augustine grew up, he traveled to Carthage.  In those days, saying “I’m going to Carthage” was like saying, “I’m going to Harvard.”  It was where all the great thinkers went to, well, think and trade abstract ideas.  It was also where many heresies and questionable theological theories sprang up and resided.  These ideas influenced Augustine and led him astray for oh-so-many years.  To his chagrin, Augustine wasn’t alone.  Right behind him on the boat to Carthage was his mother.

As she followed him on his travels, Monica witnessed Augustine’s sinful ways.  She watched him drink himself into a stupor on multiple occasions.  She watched him blaspheme against God and the Church.  She watched him impregnate a woman he wasn’t married to.  She watched him abandon the woman and their infant son.  Her heart broke with each sin.  Every day she offered up her son in prayer.  She asked God to forgive Augustine and to change his hardened heart.  Sometimes her prayers were calm and contemplative; other times they were shouted in desperation and anger. Every prayer came with tears for her wayward son.  Monica’s valiant praying caught the attention of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan.  Monica went to him and poured out her story about the abuse she suffered and of her fear for Augustine’s immortal soul.  Ambrose was so moved by Monica’s courage and all that she had sacrificed that he assured her, “It is not possible that the child of so many tears should perish.”

Monica’s prayers finally paid off.  Augustine had a powerful “come-to-Jesus” experience that changed his life.  He abandoned his selfish ways and became a Christian.  Monica could live in peace at last.  She was called home to Heaven shortly after.