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Hell Or High Water by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis (Review)

posted Sep 21, 2016, 4:32 PM by Kaya Savas

Hell Or High Water sees two of the best working composers and musicians all around tackling familiar territory for the exceptionally superb modern day western. I personally have been a huge fan of Cave and Ellis ever since they floored me with scores like The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Road and The Proposition. They went on to compose other notable scores such as Lawless, Far From Men, and a bunch of documentaries such as West of Memphis. Plain and simple, Cave and Ellis are brilliant storytellers within their range. I will place my hand over my heart and say that I believe Assassination Of Jesse James is one of the best scores ever composed. What they have to offer as storytellers is so deeply profound over what mainstream composers can offer. Can Cave & Ellis write a score for Star Wars or the next romantic comedy? No. But in their element, they are masters. Hell Or High Water is a strong effort, but very much like Lawless, they are sharing space with songs. The end result is another deeply moving, melancholic meditation on the struggles of life that misses perfection by a notch.

Hell Or High Water is the story of two brothers who wrestle with ethics and resort to bank robbery to prevent the foreclosure of their family ranch. A seasoned lawman stands in their way and through this journey you really dig in deep with these characters and their morals. The score hones in on that, which is what Cave and Ellis do so well. Moody fiddles and strings bubbling under the surface create a soundscape that is unique to how they explore characters musically. The score was meant to work with the country music that is peppered through the film, and because of that the score is not as melodic as it could have been. I think the idea was to not create melodies that would clash with the song choices, because songs will by default have strong melodies. The score counters that by leaning more on atmosphere. The whole tone carried is tragic and low, it’s a dark score that’s trying to find the light. The music finds its structure and progression through rhythms that pulse though certain tracks with a slow but steady pace. The score is bookended by two tracks, "Comancheria" and "Comancheria II", and they perfectly start and end the journey.

Hell Or High Water is pure moody and dreary scoring from the great Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. You may know them for their music with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but in the small handful of scores they have done they have become one of the most important film composers of this generation. With Cave & Ellis you won’t get music that sounds like any other composer’s. Their instrumental range is limited, but their emotional range is unmatched. Their sound is purely their own, and when they are placed on the right project they can make music that will crack open characters for the audience to connect with on an almost spiritual level. This score lacks some of the melodic strength that would have helped it connect deeper, but it’s still a brilliant effort from the duo.