At the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the programme is categorised into strands that celebrate and showcase different aspects of cinema, and each year a nation is focussed on which highlights the ‘international’ part of EIFF. In 2015, Mexico is the country in the limelight and Gabriel Ripstein’s debut film ‘600 Miles’, or millas in Spanish, is in the line-up, following its successful trip to the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. The crime drama unfolds within the arms trafficking underworld as friends Carson (Harrison Thomas) and Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer) smuggle weaponry from Arizona across the border to Arnulfo’s Mexican drug cartel family in an SUV. Unbeknownst to them, ATF agent Hank Harris (Tim Roth) is tracking them closely and when their paths inevitably cross, a vicious encounter leads to an unlikely road trip, simmering with threat and nerve-shredding tension.
The visuals really go a long way in building the suspenseful atmosphere that drives the plot forward. The plot structure is rather unnatural as sequences are sectioned off from one another and the unsteady nature of the handheld camera used adds to the unnerving tone. As development takes shape, some neatly executed tricks in focus and mise-en-scene plays up the divide between the two central characters in Arnulfo and Hank, as their relationship grows during their journey, careering to a definitive finale. The concept of placing antagonists in a confined space and waiting for the conflict is a tried and tested approach, but here it is carried off tastefully and with a continued unpredictability thanks to an interesting script and solid performances from both the genre mainstay Roth and fiery rising star Ferrer.
Successfully combining the gangland thriller and road movie bases, ‘600 Miles’ is an engaging hybrid effort that has underlying art house elements to boot. The slow-burning pace is obviously deliberate but becomes laboured until the introduction of Roth’s character around a third of the way through. Despite being a neophyte in his field, Mexican director Ripstein has a knack for implementing infrequent but shocking doses of violence, and seems to understand both the gun running environment in which he sets the project, and the greedy criminal minds that inhabit it. Working alongside Belgian cinematographer Alain Marcoen, best known for his collaborations with realism specialists Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, there is an intriguing inventiveness in their partnership that keeps the film well above average.