Hell or High Water – First Ten Minutes

8E9A3025.CR2att Bird over at the Cockeyed Caravan, Cockeyed Caravan: Best of 2016 #8: Hell or High Water, has this on his top ten of 2016. I would agree with him on the sound quality of the dialogue; if there was a DSP Mumbling Filter for VLC player available I would have used it here.

‘Come in late, leave early’, typically advice given about scene writing but has been applied here to the whole script. The story starts in the middle of the action, robbing banks, not when the Bank decides to close on the Mother’s house and take back the land.

John Truby uses Vertigo as an example to define the term he calls ‘Compression’ which is delivering the setup of the story in the least amount of time.

So, what do we know in the now infamous first 10 minutes?

  • 1:07 – Opening shot of the Texas Street is of tires by the roadside and rundown buildings. This is not going to be a story about wealthy Texans living in beautiful apartments. “3 Tours in Iraq but no bailout for people like us” is setting the tone for a story about victims of the system and society.
  • 1:56 – We track the large sign of the ‘Texas Midlands Bank’, soon to be a major character in this story.
  • 3:00 – ‘You’re all new at this I’m guessing ‘in?’, we now know that they are not professional bank robbers who do this for a living.
  • 3:30 – We get our first insight into the brother’s characters here, ones cool headed and the others touchy and irrational. Technically these character types are a massive cliché that we’ve seen a hundred times (Clooney and Tarantino in From Dusk Till Dawn). But we get a nice reversal just when we expect the Bank Teller’s head is about to be blown off. He doesn’t shoot her and instead makes the joke, ‘You’re stupid’. This is a critical choice for the script at its early stages as if he shoots the Bank Teller then they are murderers now, no matter how much back story we lay on later. We still get an outburst of unwarranted violence anyway when the Bank Manager gets it in the nose.
  • 4:53 – ‘See little brother, not a worry in the world’
  • Shots of suburban Texas show us how poverty and debt have a stranglehold on the community.
  • 5:55 – The old man in the second bank asks, ‘You boys robbing the bank?’, And then says ‘That’s crazy you all ain’t even Mexicans’. The racism theme of the film has now started.
  • 6:25 – ‘You got a gun on you old man?’ – ‘You’re damn right I’ve got a gun on me’. We get an insight into the views and attitudes of Texans and their right the carry weapons. We also get a setup for later when the bank robbery finally goes wrong, and they get shot at by the locals.
  • 6:36 – ‘We ain’t stealing from you, we’re stealing from the Bank’. We now know why they are doing it and have a hint at the heart and motivation of the main story line.
  • 8:30 – ‘I could do this all week’, and that’s what they are going to do.
  • 8:40 – We get shots of the oil fields and wells which is another major plot point of the script.
  • 8:50 – Dollar Bill Blues – does this country song portray the hardship of the working man?
  • 9:00 – I haven’t seen a getaway car been being buried after the robbery before, have you?
Hell or High Water – First Ten Minutes

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