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A returning man to a small close-knit hometown where he’s got a troubled backstory is practically the backbone in the skeletal structure of the movie-land screenplay. Add to that the political and personal fervor over the U.S.-Mexican border debates and there’s a whole new sub-genre starting to populate the cinema landscape. With The Hollow Point, a well-made, high-tension thriller about a private little war on that border, a new standard might be set as this character-driven story surprises on every level.
On a lonely, sunburned road in an unnamed swath along a stretch of the border, Sheriff Leland (Ian McShane) pulls over a beat-up pickup truck he suspects isn’t on the up and up. When he’s proven right, he ends up in a fight for his life, forced to kill a desperate young man caught up in an equally desperate business. For his action, and his long record of drinking and demerits, Leland is relieved of duty and in his place comes a familiar face to the people of the town, that of Wallace (Patrick Wilson), a man with few friends and a bitter history.
What these men don’t know is that not far away, that pick-up truck, which was secretly loaded with armor-piercing “cop-killer” bullets, was headed to a Mexican drug cartel, waiting for a deal that goes equally bad. This brings the wrath of a cartel cleaner (John Leguizamo), who has come to town with a bloodstained machete, a list of names, and a simple agenda.
Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, The Hollow Point is an atmospheric, nasty little thriller that is dripping with indie-smart dialogue and a penchant for graphic violence. Written by newcomer Nils Lyew, it is the tight, razor-sharp script that propels the story forward, every word crackling from the lips of actors who know precisely the tone needed to make it work like a dime-store pulp-fiction western sprung to life. These are finely-molded characters warmed in the kiln to a perfect degree and López-Gallego gives them a rich, tension-filled stage on which to perform.
That begins with the pairing of Wilson and McShane, a buddy-cop trope with a streak of ugly that gives them tremendous watchability. These are men unafraid of death but are equally vulnerable to it, men already living in pitch-black times, dragged into the dangerous undertow of a coming tsunami. Wilson, who has a natural naivety in his eyes that make him good for roles that demand discovery, is well cast as Wallace. He gives the young sheriff a jagged edge and when mixed with McShane’s already cantankerous Leland, make for a ferocious team that sets this film on fire.
And what does any set of good guys, questionable ethics or not, need most? A villain to hunt. Leguizamo’s near mythic sicario is a demon in faded denims, a butcher López-Gallego paints like a B-movie horror monster, stalking prey with relentless conviction, though admittedly he has his own set of morals that come into play as the third act unfolds. Leguizamo has few words but he cuts with great weight. There is also a terrific turn by James Belushi, an actor best known for comedy, playing another link in this corrosive chain. It’s one of the more surprising supporting roles in recent film and some of the best work he has ever done.
Like any film in the genre, a story of redemption can also be a fall into the abyss. The Hollow Point is a tragic odyssey layered in metaphor, best realized in a great moment as Wallace lies at the base of a hole while a ghost in the haze tosses bags of dry cement upon his chest and begins to douse it all in water. As Wallace breaks loose of a seal that should hold him in place forever, we witness a shift in him and the story as well as the haunts of the past are alive in the demons of the present.
The Hollow Point is a gripping, superbly-paced thriller that might not have the wide appeal of a more slickly-produced big-budget release, but is nonetheless a great movie experience. A hidden gem, this is one to watch.
Movie description: The Hollow Point is a 2016 thriller about a new sheriff in a local border town investigating a munitions deal gone terribly wrong.
Director(s): Gonzalo López-Gallego
Actor(s): Ian McShane, Lynn Collins, Patrick Wilson