Coming from the screenwriter of Sicario, Taylor Sheridan, Hell is as much a thriller as it is a period piece. The story is about the two brothers on a slew of bank heists, but it's also a clear portrayal of its context, not unlike how Spotlight is clearly set in the early aughts. The landscape around them is drought-ridden, debt-rich, and stunningly self-reliant. Characters minor and major resort to vigilante-ism not so much for righting wrongs, but for addressing personal afflictions. At one point, the rangers park in the middle of the road because of cowboys herding cattle around them, and Marcus says "Those boys are on their own." That theme resounds throughout the movie. As referred to in the film, Comanche means 'everyone is an enemy'. The times and the people are a-changing and they have no sympathy for those that can't make it on their own. When Marcus leaves his motel room in the middle of the night as if in a dream, wrapped only in an old blanket, he's like a relic of an old age, forcefully being pushed out of a place he inhabits better than his successors. For him, for the Native Americans of the land, and for the two brothers, there's a resistance of subsiding to nothing by whatever means possible.
Sheridan speaks on his preference to cast the audience into confusion on who they should root for in any given story. Each character is fully realized and complex, containing nuance beyond what we see in the span of the movie. Similar to Out of the Furnace, there's an understanding that we can't fully understand the language and code this society lives by, that there are pockets of American civilization that are more foreign and ethically nebulous than we always acknowledge.
There's not a false note in any of the performances here. Bridges is as glorious as ever, and Pine shows that he deserves better than the boy scout roles he's usually good at snapping his twinkly blue eyes at.
Mackenzie performs a rhythm worthy of a jazz drum solo, sometimes with a series of energetic cuts, and often with sublime long takes that amp up the tension. Like his former movies, he juxtaposes a gloriously wide 'scope with a small cast. Although with his former film Starred Up he worked in smaller confines, the landscape here begs for the widescreen treatment, also allowing Mackenzie to be more playful with what's going on in the background.
We have little guidance in who we sympathize with in this weary tale, but there's no sense that we should ally ourselves one way or the other. Hell is a well-dusted, well-worn story where its characters deserve to be treated more tenderly, but cannot.