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600 Miles (2016): Review

A young man who smuggles weapons into Mexico for a dangerous cartel is tracked by an an intrepid ATF agent. But when the man kidnaps the agent with intentions of driving him the 600 miles to the mob boss, things change.

There’s a brief moment near the start of 600 Miles when Arnulfo Rubio (Kristyan Ferrer) stands shirtless in front of a mirror. He’s hand-drawn a skull on his upper arm and painted a thin black line below his eyes. He begins to talk to his reflection with quite menace, seemingly rehearsing for a situation that will pit him against another. It’s highly reminiscent of Robert De Niro‘s defining moment in Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver (1976) when Travis Bickle famously asks if his reflection is talking to him. The difference here though is that young Rubio is not the twisted sociopath that Bickle has become, and when he gets close enough to the mirror so his own breath hazes the reflection, something comes over him. Fear and maybe a little worry about what he’s become.

600 Miles
Tim Roth (600 Miles, 2016)

Director Gabriel Ripstein‘s latest film is an unnerving examination of a single cog in an ever-growing machine that few not involved in know much about. The process by which guns are moved from the United States into Mexico is not a glamorous one. From gun shows to mom and pop shops, to department stores and convenient marts, the collection and distribution of the firearms is shown with devastating tension, simply because we know the film’s plot. As a pair of young men move about an unnamed town gathering weapons, one in the shops and the other in the car, the two represent the perceived dynamic of the trade, one of the cold, quick temper and impromptu action, the other reserved, accountable, prepared, though perhaps naive.

The film starts in one direction, with Rubio collecting and preparing for a run across the border. There’s also ATF agent Hank Harris (Tim Roth) combing the gun shows for suspicious buyers. When it leads him to Rubio, a tense standoff begins, thwarted by Rubio’s unseen maniacal partner. Then the movie shifts. Moving away from the criminal cat and mouse game, it instead becomes a kind of road movie as Rubio and Harris ride together the 600 miles into Mexico where Rubio thinks he’s got a trophy to earn him higher status, starting with his uncle. The older, weathered and experienced Harris understands what is happening and figures he needs to use the time wisely. His captor is a newbie, an ambitious wannabe who has the equipment but not the heart. As they draw closer to the end, and the road narrows to a troubling conclusion, the two discover they need each other to make it out alive.

Ripstein knows tension. He’s not interested in following the expected. This isn’t a loud, highly-stylized drama that puts smugglers in garish haciendas atop lush green mountains. One of the more challenging moments comes in a small kitchen when Rubio reveals who he has in his car. Suffice to say it ends with Rubio sitting weeping at a table while a man washes dishes. It’s one of many unexpected moments that are unlike any in the genre. There is no soundtrack, no manipulation. This is not a formula film.

It succeeds as well as it does by its performances. Ferrer is a marvel. Speaking Spanish throughout, he is convincing and compelling as Rubio. I like how he rehearses lines for expected in encounters with border guards, partners, and even his uncle. It reveals much about where he is in this deadly game. Roth is, like the film itself, subdued. I like how he’s alway watching, observing and putting it together. Ripstein molds these characters very carefully, often wordlessly shaping them as we follow them about.

There are subtle jabs at the gun controversy, naturally. A young man is asked for ID when he buys a pack of cigarettes after the numerous boxes of ammo have already been rung through. The gun shows impart that it’s very easy to arm oneself, and Harris himself, a small man, sifts his way along with a notepad and pencil (one day they’ll go digital, he says), representing the meek efforts of the government to control the sales. But the story is not ostensibly about that. This is about the order of things, the chaos of poor choices, the need to survive, and the routine of its daily existence. The final frames will feel jarring. And so will the experience.

600 Miles (2016): Review

Credits

Director: Gabriel Ripstein
Writers: Gabriel Ripstein, Issa López
Stars: Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer, Mónica Del Carmen

4.0
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