Film’s about the drug cartel and all it’s glorious drama is a genre that has found an appreciate and loyal audience who thrive off of high tension, all action narratives. It takes real bravery and skill to take this much loved genre and create something so brilliantly different but ultimately recognizable. First time director Gabriel Ripstein takes on this challenge with real gusto and a sense of identity with his new feature 600 Miles.
Staring the always wonderful Tim Roth and rising star Kristyan Ferrer, 600 Miles tells the story of young gun runner Arnulfo (Ferrer) and federal agent Hank (Roth) who’s been tracking his work. While Arnulfo begins to believe he’s making his way to the big leagues of weapons smuggling, working for his uncles cartel, Hank is on his tail, ready to take him down.
When Hank finally makes his move to bring Arnulfo down before he completes another run, he soon finds himself face down in Arnulfo’s car, having been beaten by Arnulfo’s partner. Panicked and desperate, Arnulfo makes the reckless decision to take Hank hostage and deliver him to his uncle as a gift of information. As the two start their journey through Mexico, tables begin to turn and alliances change as they both find themselves in serious danger.
Arnulfo is young and clearly naive, he looks barely out of adolescence and looks like a baby-faced criminal. Small details give away his youthful outlook like drawing on skull tattoos with women’s eyeliner and wincing at a clearly home pierced ear. He’s desperate to prove himself to his misplaced role models and this is clearly his life’s motivation at this point in time.
There are, however, undertones of a brooding homosexuality throughout his exposure. Lingering looks of discomfort around women, applying eyeliner and the excessive physical contact with his initial partner in crime. As well as this, the usage of offensive homophobic slurs acts as a cover-up for potential suppressed desires and we’re soon able to pick up on a barely hidden notion of what real masculinity is.
This is a theme that continues throughout the entire narrative. Through costume we see large gold chains, glistening diamonds and guns as a fashion accessory; it all represents the uniform of traditional masculinity. Through dialogue also we’re about to understand the pressures of stereotypical masculinity from both sides as we witness the fierce insistence to be brave, strong and at all times in control.
Being introduced to Hank works as an interesting contrast against our initial introduction to Arnulfo. He’s casually dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, here’s no predictable shirt and tie or bright officer badge gleaming from his lapel. However, there’s still a sense of authority in his manor and demeanor.
Ferrer and Roth play their roles with such easy believability that it’s a real pleasure to watch them, both individually and opposite each other. Ferrer in particular steps out as the real shinning star of the film. He’s completely believable as this mixed up kid who’s just trying to prove himself in an impossible environment and there’s little doubt that he wont go on to give more great and committed performances.
For a directorial debut Gabirel Ripstein shows real confidence and ease about the kind of film he wants to make. You can feel the connection of care within each of the film’s components. From cinematography to performance, lighting to direction; it all feels genuine and at ease with its own intentions.
The film is shot well, a lot of hand held camera work helping to immerse us into the film’s world. There is no pretense of an over the top thriller, instead it relies on narrative and performance over slick cinematography or editing. This makes for a refreshing change against similar films that fall into a trap of cheesy cartel flick stereotypes.
Those looking for a high-octane drug thriller may find this approach to the genre a little tedious. The beginning of Hank and Arnulfo’s journey does feel a little slow, taking it’s time to establish a relationship of power between the two protagonists. However, the film is certainly an exploration of it’s characters and that is where the real charm of the film lies; there is where we find our reward as an audience.
The ending is going to completely split audiences. It’s entirely abrupt and for some that will mean no real resolution to the narrative. However, it bizarrely fits the film’s general feel and style and manages to work in a way that would feel like a cop out ending within mainstream cinema. 600 Miles comes out on DVD Ma 30th courtesy of Soda Pictures and is definitely worth a watch for lovers of both cartel movies and fine cinema; even if you don’t completely love it, you’ll sure as hell appreciate the effort gone into it.
Drama, Thriller | Mexico, 2015 | 15 | Soda Pictures | 30th May 2016 (UK) | Dir.Gabriel Ripstein | Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer, Harrison Thomas, Monica del Carmen, Julian Sedgwick |Buy: [DVD]