The Guns of ‘Hell or High Water’
This neo-western is an instant classic with an all-star cast
Since Hell or High Water’s release in 2016, the neo-Western crime thriller about two brothers who carry out a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch has made a big splash, garnering significant critical acclaim. It was chosen by the American Film Institute and National Board of Review as one of the top 10 films of 2016 and last week, it was announced that the film has received four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing, though it didn’t win any.
The plot harkens back to the exploits of Jesse James in more than one aspect, and the film throughout features plenty of gunplay and tense action scenes, along with some terrific performances by the entire cast.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Hell or High Water is currently available for VOD from various platforms, including iTunes.
Now let’s look at the guns!
A divorced dad, Toby Howard (Pine) and his ex-con brother, Tanner (Foster), resort to a desperate scheme involving a series bank robberies in order to save their family’s farm in West Texas. They then launder the money they steal at a local casino.
With Foster being a veteran of the “3:10 to Yuma” remake cast and Jeff Bridges of True Grit playing the lawman chasing them, along with the arid West Texas setting, the whole movie has a distinctively Old West feel to it, even though there isn’t a horse in frame. And Pine fits right in, delivering what is likely the best performance of his career.
Smith & Wesson Model 686
Tanner and Toby wear matching ski masks during their robberies, but Tanner has more old-fashioned taste in handguns, sporting what looks to be a Smith & Wesson Model 686 revolver in .357 Magnum with a 4-inch barrel as his weapon of choice, at least during robberies.
The Model 686 is a Smith & Wesson L-Frame revolver that is available in six and seven-shot cylinders. The gun has been marketed to police officers and hunters alike and is known for its burly construction that can stand up to heavy use with magnum loads. The 686 comes standard with a full-length barrel underlug.
The older bank customer in the western hat has a gun on him, and says as much when asked. Toby takes it from the small of the man’s back, and foolishly puts it right on the bank counter. When the brothers run out, the man simply picks it up and starts shooting at them, blowing out the bank’s glass door. It’s really hard to tell, but it looks like he has a stainless or nickel Beretta 84FS Cheetah, which is a .380 ACP pistol. If so, it has a surprising visible recoil when he shoots it at the brothers’ getaway car outside.
Toby, obviously the younger of the brothers, opts for a Glock 17 pistol in 9mm as his go-to sidearm during the pair’s series of bank robberies. They rob a number of branches of the same bank, Texas Midland, in order to pay back the same bank with its own money.
Toby eventually has to use his pistol to shoot a bank security guard, who opens fire on them in the middle of their final robbery, sparking a shootout between the brothers and local residents with concealed carry pistols and rifles in their vehicles, which turns into a running chase and, eventually, an armed standoff in the desert.
Colt Commander 1911
Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), the man hunting the bank robbing brothers, carries a Colt Commander 1911 with some stand-out stag-horn grips in a strong-side holster, though he never uses it or draws it. The gun fits perfectly with his old-fashioned lawman aesthetic and is reminiscent of the sidearm carried by Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men.
During the gas station scene, the thug who pulls up in the bright lime green Dodge Challenger and begins harassing Tanner for looking at him eventually brandishes a Ruger KP94 pistol out his car window. He begins to exit the car, making threats with it when Toby takes him apart without a shot being fired. Once he takes the jerk down, Toby hurls his pistol off into the distance.
Near the final climax of the film, Tanner exits the duo’s getaway pickup truck with a parade of armed citizens chasing them after their last bank robbery. As the vehicles comes to a stop and their armed drivers start getting out, Tanner goes to meet them with a full-auto Colt M933 compact carbine, and begins spraying the vehicles with bullets.
When his first magazine runs dry, he switches to a pair of 30-round magazines he has taped together jungle-style in his pocket. He almost finishes the last magazine when the unharmed civilians decide to get in their cars and head in the other direction.
“Damn concealed carry permits sure do complicate things…” —Tanner
The M933 is also outfitted with a Sightmark Sure Shot reflex sight, railed handguards, and a foregrip.
The term jungle-style refers to the practice of taping the bottoms of two magazines together so that they overlap, with the mouths of the mags at opposite ends. The gun legend goes that soldiers began doing this in Vietnam to facilitate quick mag changes if they were caught in a firefight.
This was especially important with the early M16, which was either semi-auto or full-auto before the 3-burst option was introduced, and the high cyclic rate meant a mag would vanish pretty quick. In the early days of the war, soldiers were issued 20-round magazines, not 30-rounders…and even when they got the higher-capacity magazines, most only loaded 29 or 28 rounds to make sure they fed properly in the older rifles and carbines.
Today there are purpose-built accessories that allow you to join two AR magazines together, either parallel with a spacer big enough for the wall of the receiver, or bottom to bottom.
Products like the ProMag clamp (shown here) are universal, inexpensive, and will work on aluminum or polymer magazines. It makes a firearm heavier, but for a quick tactical mag change, you can’t beat it.
Colt Law Enforcement Carbine
Alberto Parker (Gill Birmingham) takes a position behind a car during the standoff with Tanner aiming a customized Colt AR, which might be an AR-15A3 Tactical Carbine. The gun has a 16-inch barrel, an ERGO F93 PRO 8 position stock, ERGO Ultra Lite S handguard, a Trijicon ACOG sight, and a railed gas block. The black carbine also features coyote-colored accents, like the ejection port cover and portions of the stock and handguard.
Winchester Model 70
To end the standoff with Tanner, Hamilton flanks him through the brush with an armed civilian. The lawman sees the rifle when he gets into the man’s truck after his partner is killed and spots the rifle. He then asks the man if he knows the land around here and if he can get him to the ridge opposite Tanner as he checks the bolt gun, and the man responds in the affirmative.
Hamilton then uses the scoped Winchester Model 70 bolt action rifle with a wood stock, to great effect, taking what is said to be a 500-yard shot at Tanner. There’s a bit of a movie cliche here…we get an in-the-scope view showing an accurate enough scope reticle, but Hamilton holds the crosshairs on Tanner’s head, and we don’t see him touch the elevation dial. So either this guy has his rifle sighted in at 500 yards, or the movie made a mistake here.
Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather
Tanner takes to the hills when he is finally chased down by the police in his shot-up pickup truck with his own Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather with a synthetic stock topped with a Leupold scope. and acts as a sniper, killing one officer and keeping the rest pinned down with fire.
He is seen frequently reloading the rifle from a sack of ammunition he carries as he continuously changes positions after each shot, until he eventually stops and takes up a position on a rock with the last of his ammo.