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Sunday September 23rd 2018

Hell Or High Water | 2016

The ‘West Texas’ setting of Taylor Sheridan’s script, is clearly in the grip of financial recession, its roads littered with foreclosure signs and ‘loan’ billboards – the twin trap in which so many blue-collar workers find themselves.

Facing the loss of his family ranch, straight-arrow Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is driven to enlist the help of his shadier brother Tanner (Ben Foster) in a plan to rob banks to pay off a reverse mortgage and save the property for his estranged kids.

The flat, wide landscapes are convincingly Texan but astonishingly the whole film was shot in New Mexico.

The ‘Texas Midlands Bank, Archer City’ is the target of their first not-too professional attempt at a hold-up. This is not a bank but the office of internet company Suddenlink, 1106 North Main Street in Clovis, New Mexico. The three fortuitously ‘cross’ shaped windows opposite the bank are not the invention of the film’s Art Department, they’re the real windows of St James Episcopal Church.

The second robbery, at ‘Texas Midlands’ in ‘Olney’, where the old timer isn’t impressed by the brothers’ claim that they’re “not stealing from you, we’re stealing from the bank” and takes potshots at their fleeing car, is a real bank, JP Stone Community Bank 201 South Abilene Avenue, Portales.

The robberies attract the attention of about-to-retire Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (deservedly Oscar-nominated Jeff Bridges) and his Indian-Mexican partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). The ‘Texas Rangers HQ’ is also a bank – New Mexico Bank & Trust, 320 Gold Avenue SW at 4th Street NW in Albuquerque.

While Toby chats to the waitress at ‘Bill’s Jumbo Burger’ in ‘Vernon’, his brother pops out and casually robs the ban opposite, fleeing in a cloud of banknotes. The diner is really is – or was – Bill’s Jumbo Burger, 2113 North Main Street at West 21st Street, back in Clovis. It’s since closed. The bank robbed is 106 North Main Street.

Needing to launder the stolen cash, Toby and Tanner drive north to ‘Oklahoma’ to launder the money at the ‘Comanche 66 Casino’ (the scripts original title was Comancheria, and it’s here Tanner talks to the Native American guy about the meaning of the word Comanche). The casino, with its huge neon arrows, is Route 66 Casino and Hotel, 14500 Central Ave SW in Albuquerque.

Hamilton follows a hunch and along with Alberto, they book a room in the Sunset Motel – the name this time is real. This is the Sunset Motel, East, 501 Rte 66, Moriarty.

The Rangers stop to eat at ‘The Famous T-Bone Café’ in ‘Coleman’, where they’re given a hard time by tough old waitress (scene stealing Margaret Bowman) who refuses to serve anything other than the regular T-bone steak. The café was the Blue Ribbon Bar & Grill, 315 5th Street, Estancia and, sad to report, this place too has closed.

The bank opposite, which Hamilton is convinced is on the brothers’ list of targets, is a currently empty property on the corner of 5th Street and Williams Avenue (on Google street view, 2016, it still bears the logo of the fictitious ‘Texas Midlands Bank’).

A fateful last-minute change of plan sees the robbers target the much bigger – and busier – branch in ‘Post’. They’ve overreached themselves and the ensuing gunfight leaves a security man and a customer dead.

The ‘Post’ bank is 901 Pile Street, back in Clovis ­again.

On the way to ‘Post’, the breathtaking hairpin bend negotiated by the Rangers is where NM-156 hits the Caprock Escarpment in Quay County about 30 miles east of Santa Rosa.

The Caprock Escarpment is the 300-feet cliff that marks the edge of the vast mesa of Llano Estacado, which encompasses part of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas, where the highway abruptly changes direction from south to east.

With the deaths in the bank, the tone of cheerful amorality evaporates and it’s clear there has to be a reckoning. Toby and Tanner separate, and bad boy Tanner takes off into the desert to distract the cops while Toby makes his getaway.

The rocky outcrop where Tanner and the Rangers face off is the To'hajiilee Indian Reservation, about 30 miles west of Albuquerque, which is also famously a location for TV’s Breaking Bad, giving its name to one of the episodes of the final series.