Title: 600 Miles
Director: Gabriel Ripstein
Major Players: Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer
Out Of Five: 2.5
Tim Roth’s career has had its highs and some terrible lows, most recently the spectacular fiasco that was United Passions, but he’s also carving out a sideline in smaller independent movies, producing and starring in them. And it’s here that he’s most at home.
His latest, 600 Miles, goes straight to DVD in the UK on Monday, having done the rounds of last year’s smaller film festivals. And its compact narrative is well suited to the smaller screen, with Roth as a federal agent working on the Mexican border and tracks down two teenagers involved in gun running. Instead of calling for back-up, he attempts to arrest one of them, only to be attacked by the other. When he wakes up, he’s in the back of the truck belonging to the Mexican boy, Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer), being driven to somewhere south of the border. Because the teenager thinks his gang leader uncle will be impressed.
All of which manages to fill the mandatory ninety minutes, but only just. For a film where guns play a central role, there’s less gunfire than you’d expect and less violence as well. Although when it does erupt, it’s short and sharp and the scenes are well orchestrated. One especially, where Roth is captive in a shower room, while on the other side of the wall the uncle tells Arnulfo what to do next. That wall creates a split screen, so we watch as the boy whimpers his resistance and Roth desperately tries to understand what they’re saying, sensing that it could end very badly.
It’s one of several scenes which point to first time director Gabriel Ripstein’s ability and style, but there’s too few of them for the film to really catch alight. Its tone is all on one level and long before the end you come to the conclusion that Roth’s canny cop will come out on top, although how is another matter. Which doesn’t prepare you for the ending and, indeed, nothing can. It comes right out of the blue and leaves you hanging in mid-air – never a comfortable place for somebody watching a film. The credits roll to the background of Roth chatting to his girlfriend over breakfast and you wait patiently, hoping for a final shot that will tie things up neatly.
Non-American audiences are likely to pick up on one aspect of the film that probably won’t make US viewers bat an eyelid, and that’s the scenes set inside gun shops. Walls covered with displays of firearms, aisles full of what can best be described as accessories and the comparative ease of buying a gun. Some form of ID, “Sign here and here, and put today’s date here” and that’s about it. Frightening. Although the portrayal of criminal activities on the Mexican border could make it unintentionally topical as the American presidential election approaches.
Despite its many limitations, 600 Miles has the benefit of Roth back at his best low-key form, round shouldered and unkempt, and Ferrer as his teenage kidnapper who, asleep on the back seat of the car, looks little older than a baby. They make the film worth watching, even if the story doesn’t help them.
600 Miles is released on DVD on Monday, 30 May and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 2 June.