Rams (Hákonarson, 2015) and Hell or High Water (Mackenzie, 2016)

Rams is a great film whose title and description maybe belie the drama and tension within. Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson) are neighboring brothers who haven’t spoken in years. When one of their herds of sheep gets infected they have to resolve their long-seeded conflict to save them.

At first glance, Rams looks like a “type.” Many of the opening frames are flat and symmetrical:


It feels like a deadpan comedy is brewing. And Rams is funny for a little bit, but the narrative veers far from those expectations, and the accompanying visuals mirror that change. Consider the frame below in comparison to the one above:


As director Grímur Hákonarson’s story evolves, his frames become less mannered. They lose some of their sheen, feel a bit more three-dimensional, and are even obscure at times. It’s a great change.

Hákonarson does favor a lot of slow, clean push-ins, particularly in the first two acts of the film. Like this one:

It’s effective for some standard reasons: the shattered glass in the foreground makes it that much more noticeable. But I also like it for the disparate interior and exterior: the quiet home versus the rugged outdoors. In a lot of ways the film plays with these juxtapositions throughout.

In general, Rams is just beautiful. Hákonarson and DP Sturla Brandth Grøvlen capture breathtaking images with what looks like natural light, often. The color palette stays consistently cool, but there’s contrast and mood:


Hell or High Water

I don’t have any stills since this film is still in theaters, but I really enjoyed David Mackenzie’s neo-western. Ben Foster is such an underrated actor, and Jeff Bridges is amazing as always. Spoilers aside, he has such a fantastic character turn at the end, that is well-everything: written, played, directed.

I’m sure there could be complaints about Hell or High Water being on-the-nose. It’s a heist film set in an economically impoverished US, and Mackenzie lets the latter be well known with constant signs of foreclosures and fiscal hardship. But it doesn’t distract or detract. Foster and Chris Pine play Tanner and Toby Howard. They’re bank robbers out to make enough money to pay off the bank before it forecloses on their family ranch. The on-the-nose bits feel real, partially thanks to some great locations and well-worn production design.

Hell or High Water is really just fun. It’s a neo-western in that it’s got a lot of the classic tropes (the sheriff, the bar scene, the would-be-prostitute, etc), but updates them to fit modern times. It’s not the big, bad railroad that’s coming through; it’s the big bad money lenders.

The best scene, which I really wish I had a clip of, in the film is a beatdown at a gas station. It’s great because of where it is in the narrative (and because it’s Chris Pine who does the beating, not, as would be expected, Ben Foster). But it’s mostly great for its staging. The scene is so fast, furious, and brutal. Mackenzie, if I recall correctly, shoots most of it fairly wide, so the choreography feels true. It’s as visceral as any other punch or kick, or in this case, head-into-car, that I can remember on-screen.


About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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2 Responses to Rams (Hákonarson, 2015) and Hell or High Water (Mackenzie, 2016)

  1. John L. Ghertner says:

    Rams is proof once again that Hollywood has lost its way. A simple film on the surface, stark lighting, minimal dialogue almost not needed at all, and three main characters, the brothers and the environment, and you have a depth of emotion and sense of character that the academy awards couldn’t understand.

    I don’t know how i found this beauty, but what a blessing it is.

  2. Pingback: The Best Films of 2016 | dcpfilm

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