HELL OR HIGH WATER
The movie opens in a small town in West Texas in the morning. In front of the Texas Midland Bank, a female bank employee is rushed by two men with guns, masks and nondescript clothing. They force her inside and tell her to open the cash drawers. She says there is no money in the drawers and opens them showing there is no money. She then tells them they are new at robbing banks and says if they leave now all they will be accused of is being stupid. The robbers take umbrage to what she said and force her to the ground in front of the counter. She says she will not get the money until the bank manager comes in at 8:30 am. When the manager does come in, he is greeted by the robbers, one of whom hits him in the face with his gun.
The two robbers escape in a car. They are brothers: Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) the older has gotten out of prison a year ago and is considered a career criminal. Toby Howard (Chris Pine) the younger has a clean record and chides his brother for hitting the bank manager. They then drive to another small town and to hit another bank, also a Texas Midland branch. Inside the bank is a teller at the counter talking to an old man who says he found a bunch of old coins in his barn. The teller is examining the coins and says some may be collectors items when the brothers come in. Tanner has the teller open the cash drawer and takes out only small bills, no bundles or large bills. Toby asks the old man if he has a weapon which the old man says he is carrying. Toby takes a pistol from the old man and puts it on the counter near him. The old man asks if they are robbing him and the brothers say they are only robbing the bank not him and leave. The old man gets his gun and shoots at the brothers as they are leaving. Toby says that he will not want this to happen to him again, and that they are to stick to his plan. The brothers get to their ranch where they have a large hole dug. They drive the car into the hole and bury the car with a backhoe.
The robberies are given to Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Marcus is facing mandatory retirement and is looking forward to this case as a chance to stave off retirement a little longer. Alberto is a little younger and is half Mexican and half Indian. Marcus throughout the film ribs Alberto on his racial heritage and Alberto responds with old insults back at Marcus. The FBI is not interested in the case since the robbers did not steal a large amount, only 7000 dollars, so the Texas Rangers are tasked with the case.
At the ranch, Tanner comments on the poor state of it. Toby says that he spent the last few months caring for their sick mother. Tanner goes to her former room and sees a hospital bed with old prescription medications indicating how ill she was. Their mother had died recently. Tanner was not around and openly regrets it saying if he was asked, he would have made an effort to help. Instead, Toby asked him to help him rob banks. Tanner asks about a will, and Toby says the ranch was left to him until Friday when the bank will foreclose on it. Tanner mentions that their mother never did like him much, and implies that he killed their father.
Marcus and Alberto go to the first bank and discover that the security cameras are not working since they are being upgraded to a new system. Marcus doesn't get much of a description but discounts the chance the robbers were drug users, because of the care they took not to get caught.
The brothers are in another town eating in a diner. Tanner asks about Toby's children, asking if they know about their Grandmother's death. Toby mentions no, also mentioning his contact with his kids has been very limited. Tanner encourages Toby to see his kids the next day. Tanner then notices another bank across the street from the dinner, it is not a Texas Midland Bank and excuses himself telling Toby to pay the bill. Toby then chats with the waitress telling her he used to work drilling natural gas before he was laid off. The waitress shows interest in him mentioning they could use a cook in the diner after something crashes in the back. Toby then gets his money to pay the bill and then decides to leave all of it for the waitress. As he is getting out Tanner has robbed the bank across the street. Toby is angry because now they have to bury their car, and the bank was not a Texas Midlands bank. Tanner just doesn't care.
Marcus and Alberto are heading back to their office when they get the call about the bank Tanner robbed. They turn around, Alberto making retirement cracks and Marcus responding with Indian slurs. As they are going to the bank, they come across a prairie fire and some ranchers moving a herd of cows across the road to flee the fire. One of the ranchers complains about the state of things, saying he should just let the fire take him and the cows to put him out of his misery. Marcus comments that they are on their own, implying that many out here are stuck in a cycle of poverty.
Toby and Tanner then go to Tanner's trailer where he is living on a guy's land in exchange for shooting coyotes. Tanner gets his rifles which Toby doesn't want in his car. They cross into Oklahoma and at a gas stop Toby goes in for some food.
Another car pulls up with the radio blaring loud music. The driver looks at Tanner and starts yelling at him and then pulls a gun. Tanner say "just think there are 10 of me" and Toby comes around and beats up the driver. He then confronts the passenger in the car who says the driver had it coming. Tanner congratulates his brother and then gives him crap for getting him the wrong drink.
Marcus interviews the bank teller at the last robbery who says there was only on the robber, and he went across the street to the getaway car. Marcus then goes to the dinner and talks to some of the patrons and the waitresses getting a better description of the robbers. He then asks the waitress earlier for the tip which Toby left, which was 200 dollars as evidence. She then demands he comes back with a warrant because she is going to use that money to try to keep her home for her kids. Marcus tells Alberto to make arrangements in a hotel since he figures the robbers will strike again nearby.
Toby and Tanner then go to an Indian casino. The casino doesn't care about a large amount of cash coming in. Tanner takes a few chips to play poker while Toby just sits at the bar with a large pile of chips. Tanner does well, playing poker, but insults an Indian sitting across from him. Nothing happens except the exchange words with Tanner learning that the name Comanche means an enemy of all. A prostitute approaches Toby at the bar, but Tanner chases her away from Toby. They cash out their chips with Toby putting the majority into a check to Texas Midlands bank. The brothers get a room in the hotel where Tanner flirts with the check in clerk and later has sex with her while Toby is uncomfortably trying to ignore what is happening in the next bed.
Marcus and Alberto in their hotel room are sitting and watching TV, with Marcus insulting Alberto more. Alberto is seen being hurt by Marcus and Marcus wakes up in the middle of the night, pondering the fact he will be retiring soon. Alberto tries to make him feel better, but Marcus just insults him again.
The brothers then buy a used pickup truck to be used for another robbery. Toby then goes to see his ex-wife and his sons. He meets his older son who he tells will be getting the ranch in a trust under his son's names and that there is oil on the land. Toby says that his son will hear stories about the brothers and to believe all of them but not be like his father or his uncle.
Marcus and Alberto then go to another small town with a Texas Midland bank. They wait across the street in the diner where the waitress practically tells them what to order.
The brothers then meet with their lawyer who says that they have to get 40000 dollars by Thursday to pay off the bank. By Friday, the bank will foreclose. He agrees with the plan of them robbing Texas Midland branches and paying the bank back with its money. He says that the bank greedily kept their mother in poverty so it could seize the land on the cheap. He also recommends that the brothers used Texas Midland to manage the trust.
Marcus and Alberto are still watching the bank. Alberto then comments that the Comanche's used to own all the land in West Texas, but the white people later took it by force. Their descendants are going to lose their land to the banks. Alberto goes into a nearby hotel by Marcus says outside still watching the bank.
The brothers then prepare to rob the last banks. The first bank they show up to has been closed permanently, they were not expecting that. They then proceed to the next bank, but Tanner then tells Toby that they have to go to the Town of Post where there is a bigger bank. Toby reluctantly agrees, leaving his car outside of town.
Marcus talks with Alberto over a map saying there are seven branches for Texas Midlands. The one in Fort Worth is too big. Two were already hit. One closed down, and they are sitting on one of them. The town of Post got to be the last bank the brothers are going to rob and then proceed to Post.
Tanner and Toby get to the bank but find the bank crowded with people. Tanner proceeds to get the money while Toby watches the crowd. One of the customers texts someone that the bank is being robbed and to hurry over there. Another customer and a guard both get their guns ready and start firing. Tanner kills them both and gets Toby outside where a group of armed men is waiting. They get to their truck but are being pursued by the armed mob. Toby has been hit, but the bullet was only a flesh wound. Tanner drives them outside of town and then pulls an AR-15 and opens up on the mob, driving them back. He gets Toby to Toby's car and tells Toby to take the money to the Indian Casino. Toby asks what he is going to do, and Tanner implies this is the end for him. They say goodbye.
Marcus and Alberto hear about the robbery and join several state Troopers chasing Tanner. Tanner manages to get on top of a hill and holds off the police with a deer rifle. Alberto is shot in the head, and Marcus is clearly shaken up. The mob of townspeople comes by, and Marcus approaches them telling them of the situation. One of the townsmen offers to help guide Marcus into a position to take down Tanner. Marcus then uses the towns person's rifle to shoot Tanner.
Toby gets stopped at a police roadblock but manages to talk his way through and hide his gunshot wound. He goes to an Indian casino and sees the aftermath of what happen to his brother on the news clearly saddened. He goes to the Texas Midlands bank and pays off the debt on his families ranch. The bank manager says they will fax the forms over to his lawyer, and Toby makes him do the faxing in front of him to ensure all the payments are done. As he is leaving, he asks if the bank does trusts.
Marcus then goes back to his office. He is retired but still people greet him. One of the current Texas Rangers tells him the case is practically closed. They looked into Tanner's background and found he killed his father as a juvenile and later graduated to robbing banks, the reason for his time in prison. Marcus asks about Toby; no witnesses recognized him, and his record is clean. Nobody wants to pursue Toby including Texas Midlands which is managing his trust. Oil is being pumped from Toby's ranch giving him more income a month than he stole. Marcus is told to drop the case and that he is retired.
Marcus can't let the case go and goes to visit Toby. Toby confronts him with a rifle but allows Marcus to sit down and offers him a beer. Marcus mentions he knows that Toby robbed the banks and that Tanner did it because he liked being a criminal. Toby has not spent any of the money he earned from the oil. Marcus wants to know why Toby did it and holds him responsible for all the people killed. Toby says his family grew up poor, and he wanted to break the cycle of poverty his family has been suffering for his children.
Toby challenges Marcus who also is armed, but before anyone can draw Toby's ex-wife and his children drive up. Toby mentions off the rifle in is hands as wild hogs are getting into the garden, and Marcus is an old friend. Toby doesn't live in the house as it his children's and he just visits to be in their lives and to work on the house. Toby tells Marcus he is in town, and they can finish their conversation there. Marcus replies that he will meet him, but that will not finish things as they both will be haunted by what happened.
The film closes with scenes of the ranch and oil pumps working on it.