Banks have reputations that are less than stellar. They are, to most people, necessary evils, especially if you want do anything that involves large amounts of money, often money they don’t actually have. Want to buy a car? Talk to the bank. Want to buy a house? Talk to the bank. They are usually the only option if people want to reach beyond their means but that relationship comes with a power shift as the bank is actually the owner of whatever it is you’re trying to buy, only giving you access as long as you keep making payments. If that fails there’s little mercy available, to the bank you’re just a number. Dislike of banks runs the spectrum depending on your circumstances and how deep you’re in to them.
That’s the basic premise of the new movie Hell or High Water. Brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) are faced with the proposition of losing their family’s West Texas family farm. Unable to meet the payments put in place by the bank, they become desperate and decide to begin robbing banks to get the money. Eventually their actions attract the attention of Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), who investigates the robberies and hunts down who’s responsible. He finds himself stymied, though, since while the banks certainly want the perpetrators caught the average citizen holds their own grudge against the bank and is in no hurry to help out.
The movie’s poster has a washed out, desaturated tone to it as it shows Pine and Foster walking through the Texas grass, guns in one hand and money (presumably) in a bag in the other. Looming over them like Mustafa in the clouds is Bridges, clearly indicating that he’s watching them and probably chasing them. Below the title treatment we’re told “Justice isn’t a crime.”
It’s a solid one-sheet that establishes the premise of the movie pretty well. There’s nothing hugely innovative or notable here but it presents a premise and a cast that’s relatable and recognizable by most audiences, which is what it needs to do.
The first trailer begins by laying out the premise of the story, which is that Toby and Tanner’s mother is being stalked by a bank that wants to foreclose on her land. So the two decide to raise the money by robbing banks. That puts a Texas Ranger on their trail. As he gets closer, the stakes for their crime wave get higher as they get resistance from customers and get more and more desperate to maintain their activity and reach their goal.
The trailer is heavy on atmosphere, seeming to glory in the Texas heat and the sweat and grime on the faces of both Pine and Foster. Those two form the emotional core of the movie based on what we see here as it’s sold as an emotional but violent story of brothers willing to do anything for each other and their family.
A second trailer wasn’t too dissimilar from the first. A few new shots but the same overall structure and construction to how it presents the movie’s story.
The third trailer opted to present the movie not so much as a heist drama but as one about financial fraud and other problems. So it’s less about the “keeping mom’s land” angle and more about exacting some measure of revenge, however illegal, on the banks that are responsible for the inequality and problems the citizens face. No one here has much sympathy for the banks.
This is probably the best of the three. Or at least it’s better than the largely duplicative second trailer, presenting different aspects of the story than what was on display in the first trailer and offering a new angle on the movie.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website is well done for a smaller movie, featuring a version of the key art as the background along with prompts to buy tickets and a couple encouragements to watch the trailer.
You can guess how much word-of-mouth is going to be important to the campaign by the fact that “Reviews” is the first section of content in the navigation menu at the top of the page. That’s where you’ll find nicely-formatted pull quotes from early reviews of the movie, though unfortunately there’s no links to the full stories.
The way “Story” is laid out is pretty cool. Basically you keep scrolling down the page quotes from the characters appear that explain what’s going on. That’s a neat usage of this kind of layout that I haven’t seen before. Eventually you get to a full Synopsis that explains the plot more fully, but I like the idea of explaining things only through slowly revealed dialogue.
That’s followed by “Cast & Crew” where you can view bios and film histories on the major actors as well as the director and writer. Finally, “Videos” has all three trailers.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There were TV spots run that condensed the trailer down to 30 seconds, laying out the basics of the “brothers stealing from the banks that are ruining them” story and showing off the dry, arid Texas landscapes on which that story will unfold. Pine, Foster and Bridges all get about equal screen time, which makes sense.
Not aware of anything online or outdoors, though I wouldn’t be surprised if next week, when the movie expands to more theaters, more general advertising was done.
Media and Publicity
One early press story called out a diner scene in the movie in particular and said it would go on to rank among the top scenes set in that particular locale. Pine talked close to release about how he became attached to the movie, beginning with his desire to do something that might be a bit unexpected for him and out of his normal comfort zone.
Bridges also got in on the press action, with a few interviews like this one where he talked about the story, getting to know a real Texas Ranger as part of his research and more.
At one point this movie looked pretty disposable, like it was just going to be a mid-level whatever kind of release that had nothing going on other than catching Chris Pine needing a paycheck between Star Trek and Wonder Woman. It looked like the kind of thing that would eventually have one sad little VHS copy on the Blockbuster Video shelf that would get picked up a couple times a week but never be rented because no one had ever heard of it.
Somewhere around the second trailer, though, that started to turn and it became more and more interesting as the story came more into focus. Foster’s performance came more to the forefront and the dynamic between him and Pine was more clear and the campaign started to show audiences what the movie was trying to say, what it’s message was. If the audience caught that message it could be enough to turn out some specialty box office success.