Greg Kwedar’s Transpecos cuts all the fat for a snappy border patrol thriller, where its biggest strength and weakness is its very channeled point of view. Set on a small border outpost, the principal cast are your recognisable movie types. Enthusiastic agent Flores (Luna) is teaching new boy Davis (Simmons) the tricks of the trade, while old guard Hobbs (Collins Jr.) watches on to make sure they don’t mess anything up.
So when an inconspicuous car pulls up, the driver is quickly flagged on to proceed until Hobbs saw something that might be awry. When the driver attempts to make a getaway, Hobbs’ arm is stuck in the window and he ends up shooting him as he reaches for a gun. Low and behold, they discover concealed drugs in the boot. Flores attempts to call it in, but when Davis pulls a gun on his colleagues and reveals he’s been paid off by the mafia, if the drugs don’t make it to their intended destination, he and his famiy will be in trouble.
Unlike other recent drug border thrillers – see Denis Villeneuve’s excellent Sicario – Transpecos focuses solely on those three border cops and their station. We don’t track back or forward in the network, and we don’t stray too far from border lines.
Taking place over a single day and night, much of the film is set on the same stretch of road, with just Simmons, Luna and Collins Jr. sharing the screen. The narrow viewpoint gives the film an almost claustrophobic feeling, as with no help coming, every step feels like a battle of wits. For Davis, the corruption was inescapable, he either begrudgingly agrees to help or his family would be killed. While Hobbs is adamant this is an unforgiveable betrayal, Flores sees the lines blurred, and considers helping his comrade out of his mess, or the blood too will be on his hands.
The three leads are excellent, turning a peaceful opening into chaos at the blink of an eye. It’s these brisk changes of pace and tone that are the film’s greatest strength, quickly putting the close-knit team at odds with each other. Journeyman Collins Jr. brings very welcome clout, though Johnny Simmons and Gabriel Luna turn in fine performances too, the latter especially standing out.
And while this is a film that intentionally does not debate drug policy, come the third act it could have done with finding another place to go, thematically or even just georgraphically. At times the film takes generic turns, so for the finale Transpecos really needed to step things up, but it stumbles at the last hurdle. The finish doesn’t have the sense of escalation to do the build up justice, w hich is a great shame, as much of co-writer/director Greg Kwedar’s work is excellent. It’s not often you say this, but next time, the filmmaker should be a little more indulgent.