2016, NR, 86 min. Directed by Greg Kwedar. Starring Gabriel Luna, Clifton Collins Jr., Johnny Simmons, Oscar Avila, David Acord, Alma Martinez.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 9, 2016
There are films in which the landscape is as much a character as the actors moving within it (Malick, Leone, and Antonioni quickly come to mind). Greg Kwedar’s Transpecos has three strong actors, but it is the terrain that ends up dominating this film. A promised wind blows, a sunset pregnant with meaning, and a succession of desolate shots of an unrepentant desert devoid of civilization loom over this tale of three border-patrol agents whose regular routine is rapidly unraveled in a day that tests trust, friendship, and loyalty in a film that hearkens back to Blood Simple-era Coen brothers.
Border-patrol agent Flores (Luna) is teaching youngblood Davis (Simmons) the more subtle methods of tracking a drug mule across the desert as the film begins. Transpecos’ first act lulls you into the daily routine of a job that seems the very definition of tedium. Old guard Hobbs (Collins Jr.) is the archetype of the grizzled veteran, but a seemingly random border stop spirals into murder and mayhem. The three men now must grapple with a complicated mix of loyalties, honor, and consequences. Kwedar’s film does not answer easy questions, and the subsequent fallout is intense and nerve-racking in all the best ways. All three leads bring the goods, but it is Luna, carrying much of the emotional weight of the film, who shines the brightest, showing a depth and countenance well beyond his years. Transpecos is at turns nail-biting, heart-wrenching, and suddenly ruminative; a bit like catching your breath as you realize you almost just fell to your demise when you thought you were just out for a leisurely stroll. It is a minimalistic film that wraps its message up tight: If you want to unpack it, it’s there, in the way these men behave, in the way these men maneuver, in the way you keep emotions close and inaccessible. As the endlessly open landscape unfurls, you realize that this is the soul: naked, open, relentless.