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Transpecos - Movie Review

5 stars

The border.  Joni Mitchell sang about it.  Cormac McCarthy’s prose is filled with its beauty.  As a nation, we are obsessed with its divide.  For Austin filmmaker Greg Kwedar, borders are to be explored because, at the end of a very long day, they define us.  His film, Transpecos, is an intoxicating look at the beauty and the danger located within one part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert in North America.  It is the haunting tale of three Border Patrol agents and the single decision that underlines the men they are when the uniforms are removed.

Depicting corruption as unavoidable as the desert heat, Kwedar’s film is a tension-filled tale that puts its audience in the dusty boots of three border patrol agents – Rookie Davis (Johnny Simmons, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), veteran Flores (Gabriel Luna, soon to be seen as Ghost Rider in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and jaded Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr. from HBO’a Westworld) – all man a checkpoint on a long stretch of highway ribbon.  They have only themselves in the immediate area and each car that appears on the horizon meets their steely gaze.  They also track the arid desert around them in search for drug-runners and illegal immigrants, all wanting a better place in the sun.

Thing is, even on the best days, no one ever knows what side of the border they are actually on.  That’s the point – one of many – in Kwedar’s searing picture.  And, in a world where the right thing looks a lot like the wrong one, perception is a shifting grain of sand - even when routines are the norm.  Transpecos is the first film in a long while that actually breaks the beauty of the natural world against the very real and very human lives of the agents who patrol it’s lines.

After an unsettling beginning in which we see the brutal realities of the violent world of the cartel, these three agents cease to become random caricatures and become living and breathing men dealing with the realities that the contents of one car spell out for them.  They are not merely “uniforms” and that fact is a credit to the film.  Kwedar and his talented cast have put together a film that is hard to shake off.  It is, in fact, spellbinding in a way that suggests that it will not be soon forgot. 

Poetic and piercing, Transpecos is a steady gaze across a most beautiful sunset of violet and pink.  What goes on below its glow is not quite as poetic.  The false security of the wilderness and its breathtaking views is your only warning of the events to come.  There is a harsh reality lying in the thick of the desert and Kwedar - alongside writing partner Clint Bentley – lead us right into it.  Their design means we, too, get our hands dirty and our nerves worked over as destinies are shaped against this rugged terrain. 

When the sun-drenched boredom of the Border Patrol profession sinks in, the tale warns viewers what could strike with one tense roadside stop after another.  Like a desert rattler, the film bites and sinks its venom in.  We are caught unprepared as a random stop turns violent all too quickly.  Guns are pointed.  Lines are drawn.  We are just like the men at the center of this violent tale, but how they respond will echo resoundingly off of rock and sand.  And this movie is the very definition, in plot and place, of a slow burn.    

Transpecos, SXSW’s 2016 Audience Award Winner, opens in theaters and is available in digital format on September 9th.  You do not want to miss its scorching tale of one single moment along the sunbaked border and the human lives thrown off balance in its far-reaching light. 

Shadows be damned.  Transpecos proves there is no place to hide.


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Transpecos - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: Not rated.
86 mins
: Greg Kwedar
Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar
Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna, Clifton Collins Jr.
: Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's a big desert out there, and you only have half the coordinates."
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Official Site: http://www.transpecosmovie.com/
Release Date:
September 9, 2016 (theaters and iTunes)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: Depicting corruption as unavoidable as the desert heat, Transpecos is a tense thriller that puts the audience in the shoes of three border patrol agents who man a check point on a remote highway. Rookie Davis (Johnny Simmons) and seasoned Flores (Gabriel Luna) work with the callous, world-weary Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr) to round out the trio. On what feels like another routine stop, the contents of one car will throw their lives out of control. As dark secrets are revealed, each passing hour will bring them closer to a nightmarish conclusion that could cost them their lives, in a world where the line between right and wrong shifts like the desert itself.


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