Come Hell or High Water Review

 

There have been westerns almost as long as the medium of cinema has existed. The first ever-narrative film, Edward Porter’s 1903 twelve-minute milestone The Great Train Robbery was a western. In terms of sheer cinematic proliferation, the western simply stands unmatched and there is a very good and very simple reason – they’re bloody cheap. A couple of guys, a couple of horses and some wide-open space and you’ve essentially got yourself a western. But sadly we can't all be Sergio Leone.

With that in mind we arrive at Come Hell or High Water, writer-director Wayne Shipley’s DV, no-budget, horse opera where, at first glance, a Maryland amateur dramatics society comes together to chart the vast outreaches of incomprehension. Coming across like some bizarre hybrid of a civil war reenactment, a wild west show, and left over footage from one of those Gunslinger RPG arcade games you find at Dave & Busters, Come Hell or High Water might best be used to coax information out of suspects at Guantanamo Bay – but only the hardcore inmates mind you, the ones who didn’t bat an eye at water boarding.

Mark Redfield (whose credits include such fare as The Curse of the Screaming Dead and Chainsaw Sally) stars as Missouri freight nogul Justin Gatewood. After five years in Leavenworth for attempting the murder of the man he holds responsible for his brother’s death during the Civil War (he hit the sheriff instead), Gatewood is pardoned by the governor (who values his tax revenue) and returns to his ranch with a mind to finish what he started.

Come Hell or High Water lines itself up alongside the great western paradigms – one guy is coming for vengeance, the other guy knows he’s coming and sits in wait. In fact Shipley has seen a fair few westerns and he would really like you to know that, endlessly dropping little nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to genre classics. Still, you have to wonder who exactly he's talking to because anyone who can identify dialogue from the early and more obscure works of Peckinpah wouldn’t use this DVD as a coaster, nevermind still be watching twenty minutes in.

This is the kind of production where a good day’s shoot is everyone remembering to remove their digital watches with no electrical pylons visible along the tree line. Mark Redfield, who to his credit is trying immeasurably hard, has seen one too many episodes of Deadwood and seems to think he’s in a different film entirely resulting in some excruciatingly uncomfortable exchanges.

Forget that it's shot in DV, the textures are just all wrong here. The notoriously humid Missouri plains look suspiciously like the breezy autumnal woods of Maryland. The exteriors are pristine, the interiors are immaculate and there is no dirt, no dust, no sweat – nothing to suggest this is anything other than an utter façade with everyone taking the utmost care not to wrinkle their costume because they’ve got to back at Carol’s Western Wear by 5pm to avoid a surcharge. Then there is the sound design, which is pedantic to the point of intrusive. A glass placed on a bar is accompanied by an almighty thud, spurs jingle and jangle like someone waving bells in your face, and the rustle of tumbleweed will have you pausing the movie to check around the house to see if you left a window open.

As for the story, what story? Shipley’s clearly got some designs on the great themes of the genre – fate, revenge, death – but slowly moving the audience towards something dramatic and inevitable is not something achieved by merely having a bunch of guys sitting around endlessly talking about how something dramatic and inevitable is going to happen. And that’s really all that occurs throughout these torturously long 98 minutes. 98 minutes, by the end of which, will have you weeping on your hands and knees in the dark.

DVD Bonus Features

Blessedly none whatsoever.

 

"Come Hell or High Water" is on sale March 31, 2009 and is rated . Western. Written and directed by Wayne Shipley. Starring Jennifer Rouse, Kelly Potchak, Mark Redfield, Michael Hagan.

Apr
07
2009
Neil Pedley • Associate Editor

Neil is a film school graduate from England now living in New York. In addition to JustPressPlay, Neil writes about for Uinterview.com as well as being a columist and weekly podcast host at IFC.com. His free time is spent acting out scenes from Predator in the woods behind his house, playing all the different parts himself.

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