Directed by Greg Kwedar
Produced by Molly Benson, Greg Kwedar, Clint Bentley, Nancy Schafer
Written by Greg Kwedar, Clint Bentley
Cinematography by Jeffrey Waldron
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:26)
“If you’re talking, you ain’t listening.”
The opening of Transpecos is one we’ve seen many times before, usually in cop “buddy” movies in which a seasoned, close-to-retirement cop is partnered with an eager rookie ready to eradicate all vestiges of crime in the entire town/city/region where they find themselves working. Transpecos differs in that we have three border patrol agents stationed at remote highway checkpoint between the Pecos River and the Mexican border. Two of the officers are veterans: Flores (Gabriel Luna, above center), a man who’s been on the job long enough to have seen most everything yet not long enough to have grown callous, and Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr., right) who has been on the job long enough to have turned sour, angry, and suspicious of every car he stops. Thrown into this mix is a rookie named Davis (Johnny Simmons, left) who thinks he knows more than he does. (Don’t all rookies?)
Early on we see that the enforcement of border law is mostly a matter of individual choice. Stop a car, ask the driver a few questions and let them go on their way or dig deeper? Most stop-and-check situations seem pretty routine for Flores and Davis, but Hobbs suspects that everyone is hiding something. And he’s right. Someone is hiding something. But I won’t tell you any more than that…. (You’ll learn a bit more if you watch the trailer.)
Transpecos touches on many themes. On a large scale, director Greg Kwedar forces us to deal with issues of justice and accountability. We have here three men, officers of the law caught up in an impossible situation made impossible by the law of the land as well as the “law,” if you will, of survival. The situation is far more complex than a “What would you do?” question can address. On a smaller scale, we’re faced with three different law enforcement styles as well as three different ideologies. None of them provide easy answers.
The desert is, of course, a perfect setting for this story. A wide-open area that stretches as far as the eye can see might suggest freedom, but in reality these characters are trapped. As each ray of freedom presents itself, the tension mounts and when you think things can’t get any more desperate, they do. All the while, we’re trying to filter our thoughts through each character’s eyes. At one of the film’s pivotal moments, we come to realize (through the eyes of one particular character) that all most law enforcement training deals with life-threatening scenarios one at a time. What do you do when you have multiple life-threatening scenarios going on, when you’re also trying to determine whether the person standing in front of you is telling the truth, lying, or giving you a mixture of the two?
Transpecos may be too slow-paced for some audiences, yet the tension is always present. Scenes take their time in developing and believability is sometimes an issue, but the underlying questions the film asks are extraordinary. The acting from the three leads is also excellent, but Gabriel Luna delivers a superb performance. Kwedar makes some very interesting decisions throughout the film and I eagerly await his next project, which can’t be too soon.
Late in the film, as the resolution presents itself, one of the main characters (I won’t tell you which) is told what has just happened and what’s going to happen. It’s not what he wants to hear. He responds with “Is that right?” That question isn’t only a casual response we might make several times a day, it’s also a challenge to the level of accountability of what that character’s been told. What is right? What is just? You might ask yourself the same question at the end of Transpecos. (Thanks to my friend Kristina over at Speakeasy for recommending this one!)
Photos: Fandango, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Teaser Trailer, Trailer Addict