Transpecos is the latest film to address the difficulties of U.S. border control in the face of the Mexican drug trade, but director/co-writer Greg Kwedar’s debut feature eschews the violent sensationalism of last year’s Sicario in favor of a sparer, more character-based approach.
Initially, the three main characters, all Border Patrol officers, seem like types: Hispanic Boy Scout Flores (Gabriel Luna), rookie recruit Davis (Johnny Simmons), and grizzled veteran Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr.). One early dialogue exchange — in which Hobbs’s hard-line racism toward illegal immigrants contrasts sharply with Flores’s sense of empathy — rather didactically exposes a fundamental clash in perspective.
But after a seemingly routine vehicle inspection goes fatally wrong and Davis turns out to be working, not entirely of his own volition, as a courier for a Mexican drug cartel, Transpecos burrows deeper into its characters, revealing nuances that bring them to anguished, three-dimensional life as the thriller plot gradually unfolds.
This is especially so in the case of Flores, who finds himself walking a moral tightrope, going rogue and risking jail as he tries to help Davis out of his sticky situation. Though Flores’s compassion is echoed by some of the Mexicans at the film’s climax, such a humane attitude ultimately isn’t enough to transcend the brutality of the drug war.
Sicario essentially reached the same conclusion, but Transpecos distinguishes itself with a sharp ear for dialogue, keen attention to ground-level detail, and an ending that unexpectedly chooses cautious optimism over blanket cynicism.
Directed by Greg Kwedar
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens September 9, Village East Cinema