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film review

Gabriel Luna, Johnny Simmons and Clifton Collins Jr. star in Transpecos.Jane Houle

At a remote border outpost in New Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert, a car pulls up. At first, the dusty encounter with the driver seems routine, but things quickly escalate. There's more than a spare tire in the trunk and there's more to the severe, sinewy thriller Transpecos than meets the eye. With his impressive and economical first feature, Greg Kwedar offers a taut 86 minutes of moral dilemmas, a drug deal gone wrong and a very bad day in the lives of three border guards. The script offers little in the way of back story on the three uniformed men, but we know their types straight off: Johnny Simmons plays the nervous novice who overcompensates with chatter; Clifton Collins Jr. is the hardened, no-guff senior officer; Gabriel Luna plays the level-headed, bilingual protagonist. What takes place is merciless – hard choices are made in a raw environment. We hear some folkloric "listen to the wind" nonsense, but otherwise the script is tight and the focus is intense. The soundtrack from the National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner is atmospheric and mesmeric, as is Kwedar's movie. The song playing sombrely over the tail credits is Afraid of Everyone, which is a hell of a way to die, but an even worse way to live. There is no cheer to Transpecos.