Simplicity. There a few films made today that act upon the word. They instead feel the need to fill space with the unnecessary, oftentimes to mask the problems that lie within the story being told. Mexican Director Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Millas (600 Miles) takes the simplistic route to produce a film worthy of the art form. 600 Miles makes simplicity look like the best choice for a filmmaker, and viewers are sure to agree.
Using minimal sets and very few characters, 600 Miles is the story of a young Mexican man named Arnulfo Rubio, played by Kristyan Ferrer, who works for a Mexican cartel running guns across the border from Arizona to Mexico. He is new to this position, and his greenness is self-evident in the manner in which he repeats what he will say to the border patrol to himself while driving, and also in how he presents himself to other members of the cartel, namely his uncle. It is also most evident in his demeanor, as he tries to come across to his white American partner as being tough and brash but the eyes give everything away. Arnolfo is trying too hard, and the softness that lies inside of him comes through when one of his purchases go awry and he ends up with a hostage whom he should have left behind beaten, or killed—if he were a true cartel member.
Arnolfo is now in a bind because he has taken hostage Agent Hank Harris (Tim Roth from Selma) of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Arnolfo makes the decision to take Harris to Mexico where he believes he can help the cartel with their business based on what he knows. It is an obvious huge mistake by anyone watching, but Arnolfo is merely a scared young man who does not know how to be cruel. That is what makes 600 Miles absolutely enthralling to watch. The film takes an introspective approach to a man who is reconciling his choices, and building an unlikely relationship with someone whom he should have killed, and who would happily see him imprisoned. While watching 600 Miles you see Arnolfo move through waves of emotions, and the performance by Ferrer gives strength to an otherwise fragile character even when he is at his lowest, distraught point.
600 Miles is a character piece, and while Roth delivers a fine performance as Harris it is Ferrer’s Arnolfo that provides the real soul of the film. Every choice he makes, the conversations he has with Harris while on the road, and how he approaches those close to him after taking his hostage are all perfectly crafted on screen to give the viewer an inside look at the feelings and emotional torment Arnolfo is experiencing. Ripstein slowly develops the character to make way for his ultimate choice between good and evil, and the decision is one that will leave you suffocating because of its repercussions.
It is the choice that Ripstein and his writing partner Issa López made for the ending of 600 Miles that will leave you traumatized. To reveal exactly what happens would be criminal, but it must be known that the burgeoning friendship between Arnolfo and Harris, the manner in which they have forever become connected, and the way in which each has chosen to protect one another in various ways, shall forever be a haunting memory. 600 Miles ends just as it began, with simplicity, but it is the emotional resonance it creates that is anything but effortless on the part of the filmmakers. In a word, it is cruel, and at the same time a perfect choice.
600 Miles will make you wish Ripstein wrote the ending to every emotionally charged movie made today—it is that provoking.
600 Millas (600 Miles) was screened at the 2015 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film was featured as part of the festival’s ‘Focus On Mexico’ section. More information may be found at the film’s designated festival page: 600 Millas.