“This is an opening shot that tells you this is an ambitious film, and it’s going to take you on a journey.” That’s how filmmaker David Mackenzie (“Starred Up”) describes the opening sequence to of Texas-set bank heist drama “Hell or High Water” in the New York Times video series “Anatomy of a Scene.”
Mackenzie lays out the technical and dramatic approaches he took to create the film’s opening shot, which follows a car clearly “up to no good” nearly 360 degrees around a mostly deserted bank parking lot before the passengers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) perform their heist, holding a female employee (Dale Dickey) at gunpoint as she enters. The robbers wait, guns drawn, for the bank president to arrive before they (seemingly successfully) make a run for it.
Mackenzie points to the unusually lengthy shots in the opening sequence as an attempt to capture as much reality in the setting and performances as possible. The opening heist was done on the first day of shooting, as Mackenzie tries to shoot his films as sequentially as possible, and in this case the “rustiness” of the cast and crew seemed to add to the realness. The director further describes how he tried to interplay a sense of levity and seriousness throughout “Hell or High Water,” so that the audience never knows quite where they stand.
“Hell or High Water” was penned by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan and stars Foster and Pine as bank-robbing brothers trying to save their family ranch from foreclosure. It’s in theaters now.