Chris Pine did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Toby Howard in Hell or High Water.
Pine plays the role of the lead robber Toby who actually is the one that sets the story in motion by coming up with the plan to steal from the bank that holds their family's ranch's mortgage in order to pay off the debt to the same bank that was accrued by their recently deceased mother in order to also keep the recently discovered oil on the land. Toby though is new to this recruiting his ex-con brother Tanner, with a past in robbery, in order to pull off the jobs. In this Pine is very effective in portraying this straight shooter attempting to be a criminal. In the robbery scenes, even though his face is covered, Pine is very good in just bringing this physical awkwardness to everything he does. The way he holds a gun on the people in the bank has this lack of confidence alluding to the the idea that the man not only hasn't done it before, but is not at all comfortable with endangering others. Pine brings the right hesitation in it, making so even when he finally fires a gun during the robbery he shows it to be such a flimsy desperate act, as he is clearly still trying not to hurt someone who is definitely trying to hurt him.
Although it is also easy enough to overlook that, what really makes this performance special is its Gary Cooperesque quality, though of course I mean more that idea of a Gary Cooperesque quality that is apparently suppose exist in Gary Cooper. Pine work so well in the limits of his portrayal of Toby, which purposefully never breaks the style of the character. In that Toby is a man of few words, and Pine respects that with his minimalist portrayal. He keeps his approach as very internalized and feels very authentic of this Texan man who is just trying to do what he believes is the right thing to do. Pine portrays no real thrill in the act itself, even creating the sense of a certain reluctance to it despite the fact that it is Toby's idea. Pine makes this make sense though as his portrayal captures this specific individualistic morality in Toby. Pine in the way he speaks of the plan creates the sense of the righteousness of his passion but also his understanding that what the act entails is not wholly moral. There is a great moment where Toby tells one of his sons that he should believe whatever they say about him, its an incredible moment for Pine as in his voice there is this conviction that what he is doing is the right thing but has to do it in the wrong way.
I will save some of what I have to say in regards to the central relationship of Toby and Tanner for another review. I will say though Pine on his end is absolutely fantastic as the "good brother". He never simplifies the relationship. He portrays the connection, even with some surprisingly effective bit of humor in there, but also the distance as they are men of a very different nature. Again more on that soon enough, but it should be sufficient to say that Pine is excellent on his end of crafting this layered and rich history the two men share. The main conflict though being that Tanner's motivations are not nearly as pure as Toby's. Pine again, in his so subtle way, keeps this conflict as a constant. In the robberies, only when we see Toby's eyes, Pine is terrific in portraying that concern as he believes that his brother could possibly go too far at any given point. When he does go too far we get really the only moment where Pine breaks from his more understated approach, which is wholly earned since Toby is suffering from bullet wound as well at the time. Pine delivers the palatable anguish in his scream, as well as the direct pain, as Toby realizes it has gone too far.
Pine's work though is so much quieter but this in no way mutes his impact at any point. Although again more on that relationship later, but it is Pine who finalizes it. It is a heartbreaking moment for Pine as he portrays the sadness in hearing about his brother's final end. What makes it so moving though is the way Pine shows it is less as a surprise but more of an acceptance of something he knew was going to happen eventually. Now in my review of Bridges's work I praised his final scene in particular, which is one of the best scenes of 2016 in terms of writing, directing and acting. That acting includes Pine just as much as it does Bridges. Something that makes the scene so compelling is how we understand exactly what is going on with both man. Pine is amazing in the scene as he matches Bridges in bringing that underlying intensity. Both actors are so good at essentially giving this understanding between the two men even though it is never precisely stated. It's quite something that it is one of the most tension filled scene in years but there's basically no music, no one raises their voice, and no violence occurs. Bridges and Pine again are so pivotal to this. There is a glint of hatred in his eyes that conveys exactly what Marcus took away from Toby. Pine does not let that define his work though. There's far more as he portrays an unease in Toby as though he is attempting to decipher the old man's intentions exactly as they speak. When Marcus presses Toby for his motivation, Pine is truly remarkable as subtly portrays the moral compromise but also the moral conviction in just the most minor facial gestures, and his gentle delivery. We know exactly where both men stand due to their performances, and that is what makes their final trade off leave such an impact. Pine and Bridges allows us to sympathize with both man as they leave with their haunting offerings of "peace". Pine's work here should not be overlooked when discussing the film. He gives a captivating performance, that is not overshadowed which very easily could have been when ole Ben Foster your co-star. Pine though also makes us emphasize wholly with Toby as he never simplifies the man, or the decision that he makes.