Director Gabriel Ripstein was inspired to make this film in the wake of the ATF’s ‘Operation fast and Furious’, where the ATF allowed guns to be trafficked across the border into Mexico to observe their movements. Unsurprisingly it was a diplomatic disaster: some 1000 guns were misplaced and lots of people were shot. The operation was only brought to light after American Border Patrol agent was killed by a trafficked gun.
The film follows Arnulfo (Kristyan Ferrer), a young man out of place trying desperately to find validation in his family’s criminal operation. In a chain of events that lay bare his ineptitude at being a gangster he is paired up with ATF agent Hank Harris whose bungled attempt to arrest Arnulfo sees him kidnapped and taken on the road trip of the film’s title to be served as a prize to Arnulfo’s uncle, the head of the gun running family.
This is not Burt Reynold’s A Cop and a Half (1993): the relationship is not a narrative device in which Harris gets to experience the tough Mexican streets that he was blind to, and see the error of his stuck up ATF ways. Despite being kidnapped into criminally dangerous situations, Hank Harris never appears to be contaminated by his predicament. Even though he can be staring down the barrel of a gun, Roth manages to portray Harris as a man sterilised from his surroundings. Ripstein laughs at the notion of a Hollywood ending were Harris could adopt Arnulfo. Instead the relationship centres on a subdued power struggle between the two that is never clearly outlined. Harris clearly wants to get out of the situation, but are all of his actions defined by a bid for survival? Is there a sense of responsibility that lies behind his protection of Arnulfo?
Ripstein never preaches in this film, and the gun running context is not highlighted in any way to raise awareness of the recklessness of ATF policies. Instead it is the lackadaisical relationship between the U.S. and Mexico borders and its effects that fall under focus. Guns cross one way, and drugs the other, and money passes in both directions, but the shitty end of the wedge most definitely goes south of the border. And the tip of that wedge rests squarely on Arnulfo’s head: a young man uncertain of his place in his Uncle’s criminal operation, his standing amongst his friends, and even of his sexuality. Without these certainties he cannot capitalise on the broken border relationship that his family has built a criminal enterprise on. And if he doesn’t fit in he’s going to get sifted out from the bottom.
Moments of violence arise with great effect from moments of mundanity to create a dull sense of hopelessness. An oddly anticlimactic ending serves a gentle slap to any audience expecting anything different.