AUSTIN – One of my first experiences in Texas came while on assignment seven years ago writing about the withering drought strangling the state at the time.
I visited places like Johnson City, Stonewall and Vanderpool and spoke with cattle ranchers who were selling off chunks of their herds because their land was too parched to feed them. The drought was bad, but ranching had been tough for years, many of them told me, and a lot of their sons and daughters were refusing to inherit the rough life of a rancher.
Texas cattle ranching, it seemed, was steadily fading.
So, I was intrigued by the new movie Hell or High Water, starting Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine, which tells the story of two brothers who rob several branches of the Texas bank that’s trying to foreclose on their family ranch. The film, scheduled to open nationwide on August 19, is based in West Texas and captures the sweeping vistas, grit and inflection of the place. It also highlights another threat facing ranches: predatory banks.
I met with the film’s screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, at his Austin hotel suite recently while he was in town for a screening. Sheridan was a relatively unknown actor when he decided to switch to screenwriting a few years back. His first script, Sicario, won critical acclaim for its dark depiction and layered telling of violence on the Texas-Mexico border.
A native Texan, Sheridan grew up on a ranch outside Waco. His family ended up losing the ranch, which got him out of Texas and into acting. He got the idea for Hell or High Water while visiting friends in West Texas. Driving through towns like Archer City and Windthorst, Sheridan said he was stunned at the number of empty homes and deserted ranches he saw.
It struck him that the land once ruled by Comanche and snatched by white settlers was, once again, changing hands.
“It’s being resettled with wealth, and it’s being resettled with displacing individuals,” Sheridan told me...