Hell or High Water was a huge surprise favourite of mine, see my 4-star review here, and Jeff Bridges, who plays Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton, gives a stunning co-starring performance and surely gets better with every year that passes by.
With the film arriving on the BFI Player this week (click here to stream now), we take a look back on Bridges’ illustrious career, to date…
Hell or High Water (2016)
With a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination under his belt already, Bridges’ role as Ranger Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water is proving to be one of his very best performances to date. In the western crime drama, Texas brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), reunite after years apart to rob branches of the bank threatening to foreclose on their family land. For them, the hold-ups are just part of a last-ditch scheme to take back a future that seemed to have been stolen from under them. Justice seems to be theirs, until they find themselves on the radar of Texas Ranger, Marcus (Bridges) looking for one last grand pursuit on the eve of his retirement. As the brothers plot a final bank heist to complete their scheme, and with the Rangers on their heels, a showdown looms at the crossroads where the values of the Old and New West murderously collide. The combination of director David MacKenzie’s gritty tone and writer Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay filled with unrelenting tension and depth makes for one of the most gripping modern westerns in recent memory. As well as Bridges’ Best Supporting Actor nomination, the film has received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.
True Grit (2010)
From watching this Coen Brothers 21st century remake of the classic Western True Grit, it’s easy to see why he was deemed perfect for the part of Marcus Hamilton in Hell or High Water just 6 years later. Bridges plays a US Marshall with a dark side, hired to help a young girl track down her father’s murderer, all the while slurring and growling his way through the Coen’s smart and witty script with the same kind of deep-south dialect that he’s now managed to perfect. Having been nominated for an Oscar for his part in the gritty homage film, many will be expecting him to go one step further this year and bag himself a statue.
Crazy Heart (2009)
Bridges earned the 2009 Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for his performance in Crazy Heart, which was based on Thomas Cobb’s 1987 novel of the same name, which was in turn inspired by country music singer-songwriter Hank Thompson. Bridges plays Bad Blake, a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who’s had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times. In his search for salvation he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who discovers the real man behind the musician. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Bad learns the hard way just how tough life can be on one man’s crazy heart.
Iron Man (2008)
Bridges’ furore into a superhero franchise was in the very first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man. The first outing for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark set the pace for a brilliant string of films that are now dominating the box office worldwide. Bridges played Obadiah Stane, the old business partner of Tony Stark’s father, who, following Tony’s decision to cease the manufacturing of weapons for Stark Industries tries to take Tony’s place as head of the company. Stane acquires Stark’s prototype suit and reverse engineers it into a massive new suit to rival Tony’s, leading to an explosive suit-off finale. Iron Man was a demonstration of Bridges’ brilliant range, showing his credentials as a believable and despicable baddy and proving he should not be limited just to affable characters like The Dude.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
A true cult classic from the Coen brothers, featuring the character that Bridges is most renowned for: The Dude, or His Dudeness, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing… The crime, comedy caper follows unemployed LA layabout Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski and his ten-pin bowling friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donny (Steve Buscemi) as they get caught in the crossfire of a ransom between Jackie Treehorn (Ben Gazzara) and The Dude’s wealthier namesake “The Big” Lebowski. As events unravel, The Dude gets caught up in the schemes of Lebowski’s daughter, erotic artist Maude (Julianne Moore), encounters both cops and bad guys, and drifts through an elaborate bowling fantasy sequence titled Gutterballs. The film has given rise to a non-traditional religious philosophy based on it and Taoism known as Dudeism.
If one film can be both ahead of its time when it was released, and also look pretty dated now it 1982’s Tron, a true example of how much CGI in cinema has changed over the years. Mr. Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a computer genius who whilst designing his own state of the art video game is pulled into its system and forced to battle his way back out to the real world tackling the game in an epic Man vs Machine encounter, which includes death races on the coolest motorbikes every seen on screen. Bridges also plays a digi-version of himself called Clu, who turns villain in the sequel released in 2010; Tron: Legacy which incidentally included much more impressive CGI for the modern movie-goer. Kevin Bridges really continues to prove that he is the king of cult film with this further addition to our list!
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Last, but certainly not least, we go back to where it all began with the film that first introduced us to Bridges’s charming, smirking ways; Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. Quite fittingly (for this list anyway) set in small, one-horse Texas town, the film follows two high-school seniors Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Bridges), who both fall in love with the same girl, Jacy farrow (Cybil Shepherd) and in turn learn about the pitfalls and compromises of adulthood which they are about the enter. The film was a key part of Hollywood’s creative revolution in the 70’s, and can now be related to coming-of-age indie hits of today. The timing was perfect for the laid-back, intelligent star like Jeff Bridges to be born, who used his introduction to the big screen to go on and become one of Hollywood’s most recognisable faces.
Hell or High Water is out now on BFI Player now, plus it’s on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download, courtesy of STUDIOCANAL