TRANSPECOS (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Greg Kwedar
Starring: Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna, Clifton Collins Jr.
Review by Gilbert Seah
Co-written and directed by Greg Kwedar, this thriller/drama has the odd setting of the desert surrounding a makeshift U.S./Mexican border control post. It begins as a drama about the three stationed patrol agents that turns into a thriller once trouble starts. The set-up seems so ideal for a superb thriller that one wonders why no other filmmaker has ever made a film with this setting.
The film stars three excellent unknown actors Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna, and Clifton Collins, Jr. as border patrol agents Benjamin Davis, Lances Flores and Lou Hobbs respectively. The film begins with the three buddying around, making jokes about their job and talking trash. It is a good way to start the film where the audience is introduced to the 3 characters. It turns out that Hobbs is the senior no-nonsense guard, willing to put everything into the job. Davis is the youngest and most immature while Flores the most level-headed. It is Flores that the story concentrates on. Gabriel Luna is nothing short of perfect in his role as Flores and the film succeeds primarily from his performance. Luna is able to bring the audience at any time to tears or to draw them to the subject at hand.
The trouble in paradise starts when a car is stopped by Hobbs. The car is carrying a hidden stash of cocaine and in the process of stopping the car, Hobbs is wounded by Davis. The driver of the car is shot and killed. It is revealed that Davis is in with the drug smuggling as the drug cartel has his family at ransom. “They know everything,” Davis tells Flores, “even when my sister goes to the grocery store.” But how Davis got into trouble with the cartel is not revealed. Though it does not really affect the rest of the film, one is still curious to know. Now, Davis pulls out his gun on Hobbs and Flores and decides to do the drop off off the cocaine himself to protect himself and his family. But Flores has to deal with both the wounded Hobbs while trying to save his buddy Davis.
It appears to be a lose-lose situation. There is no way out, with jail appearing to be the best alternative and the cartel killing them to be the worst scenario.
The rest of the film has the two of them, Flores and Davis dealing with the cartel. Though TRANSPECOS is not an action film, the necessary action segments are accomplished with sufficient expertise.
The desert setting is used to its full potential. The most beautiful segment, courtesy of Cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron has Flores crawling up a hill of sand silhouetted by the sun, his body shown in shadows. The segment in which the Hobbs is brought to an old Mexican medicine woman deserves mention. It brings the culture and beliefs of the people of the area into the picture completing the atmosphere of the story.
The film works best as a character study of patrol guards in the desert setting. It succeeds less as a suspense film trying to sort out a solution. But as an absorbing film in which the audience can identify with its characters, TRANSPECOS definitely succeeds with full marks.
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