Transpecos is a contemporary western populated by border patrol agents and the Mexican cartels rather than the cowboys and Indians of old. It highlights the insidious threat cartels pose in their broad influence and mercilessness when someone resists them. It reminds me of the documentary nominated for an Academy Award this year, Cartel Land, the locale of which is Mexico, whereas Transpecos takes place in Luna County, New Mexico, just outside of Deming. In both countries, the cartels can loom so threateningly, someone caught in their web can experience complete impotence and hopelessness.
In this drama, Flores (Luna) and his supervisee Davis (Simmons) are reporting to duty where Hobbs (Collins) is stationed at a border inspection station. They argue about terminology (“wetbacks” vs. job-seeking Mexicans), wonder what the howling winds will blow in, and horse around a bit. When they go out into the desert, Flores is giving Davis instructions about how to track illegals trying to enter the country. When they return to the border patrol station, they have a major conflict about whether or not to detain a certain driver and search his car. This has mildly come up with a few cars previously, but this time one of the agents insists that they let the car proceed, and the central dilemma of the story is revealed.
In the Q&A after its SXSW premier the Director and co-writer Greg Kwedar and writer Clint Bentley said they spent a fair amount of time getting to know border patrol agents and hearing their stories, and their accounts of the boredom and isolation that are a part of their jobs. The agency they work for was not as forthcoming, and eventually even issued a “Do not associate” order to their agents not to talk with the filmmakers. Consequently, members of the crew were responsible for creating the uniforms, trucks, and other equipment appearing in the movie. One of the film’s strengths is its even-handedness toward all the characters—the agents as well as the immigrants and those trying to cross the border—however, not, of course, the cartels.
The script is well written, and it moves along at a good pace with continual surprises. Actors Collins, Luna, and Simmons are convincing in their portrayals, and the cinematography of Jeffrey Waldron accentuates the natural beauty of the New Mexican landscape, including its radiant sunsets. This is Austin-based Kwedar’s feature directorial debut, which is being well received at its SXSW premier.
A contemporary western thriller pitting US border patrol against Mexican cartels.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland