600 Miles review – good news for Tim Roth in Mexican crime thriller

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At last, a smidgen of good news for Tim Roth, after the fiasco that is his Fifa film, United Passions.

Another film, Mexican crime thriller 600 Miles, has come along to remind us that Roth is in fact – most of the time – a pretty good actor. Roth plays an ATF agent who finds himself shanghaied over the border to Mexico and, despite a wavering accent that lurches occasionally back to his native London, his quiet, intense presence is just right for the role.

600 Miles is actually Roth’s second Mexican film of recent vintage; Cronica, in which he played a palliative nurse, earned excellent notices when it premiered at Cannes. (But that was BF: Before Fifa.) 600 Miles comes from the same stable: directed by Gabriel Ripstein, it’s produced by Cronica director Michel Franco. It’s an interestingly-structured film, seemingly loose and randomised. Roth doesn’t show up until 20 minutes in: until then, we watch Mexican kid Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer) driving from one gun store to another in the dusty American desert, sending in his Caucasian friend Carson in to purchase weaponry and ammo. Having stowed it all in the door panels in his SUV, Arnulfo drives back down over the border, delivering the guns to a very heavy looking gang, one of whom is his uncle (played by Noé Hernández).

Arnulfo proves to be a twitchy, nervous customer, desperate to prove himself to the cartel but clearly lacking the necessary ruthlessness. When he’s confronted by Roth’s ATF agent, Hank Harris, Arnulfo quickly folds – only to be got out of jail by Carson, who swiftly coldcocks Harris and then races off. Arnulfo – perhaps unwisely, as subsequent events prove – shoves Harris in the truck’s secret compartment and drives south again, with the vague idea of turning him over to the cartel.

Ripstein allows events to unfold in a meandering low-key style, employing an observational point-of-view with a handheld camera. When, once safely inside Mexico, Arnulfo allows Hank out of the car boot, the unforced conversations that arise intimate the bond developing between the two of them; with the apprehensive Arnulfo conceding the upper hand to his captive.

All in all, this is a pretty enterprising movie, subtly constructing its power relationship while not losing its grip on the basic sense of tension. And it’s a pleasure to see Roth proving that he’s a fine actor, and finding a little redemption as he does so.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andrew Pulver, for theguardian.com on Friday 19th June 2015 21.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010