Film Review: 600 Miles (dir by Gabriel Ripstein)

The 2015 film, 600 Miles, tells the story of two people, neither of whom is quite who he originally appears to be.

Arnulfo Rubio (Kristyan Ferrer) is the 18 year-old nephew of the head of one of Mexico’s drug cartels.  Arnulfo’s job is to go across the border, purchases weapons in the United States, and then smuggle them back into Mexico.  Arnulfo likes to think of himself as being an important member of his uncle’s cartel but it’s obvious that no one has much respect for Arnulfo.  The other members of the cartel treat him like a errand boy.  His uncle merely tolerates him, no matter how many times Arnulfo tries to impress him with his loyalty.  His own mother doesn’t seem to want to have Arnulfo around the house.  While Arnulfo takes the weapon smuggling very seriously, his American partner — who is himself just as trashy teenager — treats it all like a game.  Arnulfo talks tough but whenever he’s confronted by the threat of real violence, Arnulfo starts to cry.  Arnulfo may carry a gun and he may be committing crimes but he’s still the type of immature child who draws fake tattoos on his shoulders and who makes mean faces in front of a mirror.

When an ATF agent named Hank Harris (played by Tim Roth) attempts to arrest Arnulfo, Arnulfo’s American partner knocks Hank out and then takes off running.  Not knowing what else to do, Arnulfo puts Hank in his truck and takes him into Mexico.  After Hank mentions the names of the leaders of a rival cartel, Arnulfo decides that Hank could be a good intelligence asset to his uncle’s cartel.  Arnulfo feels that kidnapping Hank will be the perfect way to win his uncle’s respect.

As for Hank, it’s hard not to notice that he doesn’t seem to be that upset about being tied up in Arnulfo’s truck.  Whenever Arnulfo tries to order Hank to do something, Hank comes up with a perfect excuse for why he can’t to do it.  When Arnulfo demands that Hank call his wife and lie about where he is, Hank replies that his wife is dead.  Arnulfo believes Hank and, as they drive to his uncle’s house, the two of them even start to bond.  Arnulfo never considers that his uncle might not want his nephew to give an ATF agent a guided tour of the cartel’s business.  And, for his matter, Hank never tries to escape despite a number of obvious opportunities to do so.

It makes for a very tense film.  The viewer knows that something bad is going to happen once Arnulfo finally reaches his uncle.  The only question is what.  For all of his tough talk, Arnulfo is way too trusting and the audience spends the movie waiting for the moment when it will be revealed whether Arnulfo’s bigger mistake was trusting his uncle or trusting Hank.  Along the way, Arnulfo and Hank’s odd friendship becomes a fascinating metaphor for how the U.S. and Mexico view each other and themselves.  The film was reportedly inspired by Operation Fast and Furious, the misbegotten government operation in which the United States gave guns to the cartels so that they could then prosecute the cartels for the deadly crimes committed with those same guns.  Arnulfo cares about both the cartel and Hank but, in the end, one is left to wonder if any of them actually care about Arnulfo or if he’s just one of many pawns in their game.

Tim Roth and Kristyan Ferrer are both well-cast, with Roth bringing his trademark intensity to the role of Hank and Ferrer making Arnulfo into someone who secretly knows that he will never be the mastermind that he dreams of being.  In the wrong hands, Arnulfo could have been a very annoying character but Ferrer plays him as being someone who knows that he’s in over his head and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him as his wishful thinking comes up against the harsh reality of his situation.  The first 20 or so minutes of 600 Miles are dedicated to Arnulfo believing that he’s on top of the world.  The remaining 60 follow him as he comes to realize that the opposite is true.

600 Miles is as timely today as when it was first released.  It’s a film that I recommend to anyone trying to understand what’s happening down on the border.

One response to “Film Review: 600 Miles (dir by Gabriel Ripstein)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 3/13/23 — 3/19/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

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