D: Gonzalo López-Gallego / 97m
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Lynn Collins, Jim Belushi, David H. Stevens, Karli Hall, Derek Boone, Nathan Stevens
In a small, dusty town near the US-Mexico border there’s a new sheriff about to settle in. He’s a replacement for the current sheriff, Leland Kilbaught (McShane) who’s been suspended pending an investigation into his shooting and killing a young man, Clive Mercy (Nathan Stevens), attempting to smuggle bullets across the US-Mexico border. The new sheriff, Wallace (Wilson), brings with him some emotional baggage, thanks to an old relationship with Marla (Collins) that still prompts some animosity on her part. While Wallace attempts to fit back into his hometown, Clive’s brother Ken (David H. Stevens) waits in Mexico for him to arrive. When his contact from the Mexican cartel threatens him with death if his brother doesn’t turn up, Ken figures he’s got nothing to lose. He kills the contact and steals a load of money in the process.
Ken’s actions have a knock-on effect he couldn’t have predicted. Wallace begins to look into his brother’s case and starts to put two and two together. Figuring out Ken’s involvement, Wallace begins to look for him, unaware that the cartel have tasked a killer called Atticus (Leguizamo) with getting to him first. Wallace and Atticus find Ken at the same time; in the ensuing fight, Atticus cuts off Wallace’s right hand. Wallace escapes and manages to reach Kilbaught’s home. While his successor recovers, Kilbaught discovers that a local businessman, a car dealer called Shep Diaz (Belushi), is behind the runs the Mercy brothers have been making. With his dealership on the rocks, Diaz has been using the smuggling operation to prop it up. But the cartel aren’t satisfied that he wasn’t involved in Ken’s actions, especially when the money he stole isn’t found straight away. With Wallace determined to bring Diaz to justice, and protect Marla who becomes unfortunately involved in it all, Atticus is sent once more to clean up all the loose ends…
Fans of slow-burn, violent crime thrillers set in the American Southwest will find much to enjoy in López-Gallego’s latest feature. Assembling a great cast and setting them to work on a script that doesn’t provide anything new in the way the story pans out, but which nevertheless is admirable for its simplicity, López-Gallego has made a movie that resonates far beyond anything you might expect. One of the main reasons for this, is that well assembled cast. Wilson – a last-minute replacement for Timothy Olyphant – excels as the new sheriff who’s tested by the loss of his hand, but who won’t give up protecting the love of his life – even if she doesn’t want anything to do with him. Wilson has a knack for playing the everyday hero, and he uses that knack to provide an unexpectedly riveting performance, and one that makes the viewer wish he’d make more of these kinds of movies instead of any more Conjuring or Insidious sequels.
He’s more than ably supported by the likes of McShane – all grizzled disregard for the law and its finer distinctions – and Leguizamo as the hired killer who just won’t stop. Both are fine actors, and they inhabit their roles like second skins, with Leguizamo in particular, reminding us what a dangerous presence he can be. But both men are upstaged by a resurgent Jim Belushi, his performance as the duplicitous car dealer, Diaz, a shot in the arm for a career that has seen him take on too many undemanding minor roles in recent years. Diaz is as amoral as they come, and Belushi plays him to perfection, highlighting the sweaty, greedy machinations that will ultimately betray him.
The script – by newcomer Nils Lyew – plays with relative notions of revenge and karma, property and theft, and sneaks in a thin line of religiosity via Atticus’s relationship with Lilly. He further grounds the various relationships – criminal and otherwise – through keen observation and how each character deals with a variety of physical pain and emotional distress. The self-contained nature of events, and the way in which Lyew isolates the characters against the bleached desert backdrop, adds further to the sense of tragedy that percolates through the narrative once Kilbaught fires his gun. And that last scene? Justice or revenge? Actually, it’s both, and completely understandable as both, thanks to the previous interaction of the characters involved.
It’s a very violent movie in places, and López-Gallego doesn’t shy away from showing both the violence and the often bloody aftermath (though one character does appear to cheat death very conveniently at one point). Consequences are the order of the day, for everyone, and no matter how hard they try to avoid them, those consequences have a way of catching up with them and adding an extra layer on top. Even Wallace, who becomes the anti-hero of the story, insists on taking a path that will lead to more and more pain, but he’s a fatalistic anti-hero, and in his own way, just as stubbornly recidivist as Kilbaught.
Set against a pitiless desert backdrop, The Hollow Point has enough tension and undiluted malice for two movies, but López-Gallego is more than up to the task of maintaining that tension and then stretching it further, making some scenes feel hyper-realistic in the process. This isn’t a bad thing, as it all adds to the grim sense of inevitability that powers each confrontation and showdown, and each twist and turn in the narrative. As a result, the viewer is never too sure just how things will turn out, or even if the (relatively) good guys will triumph in the end. López-Gallego is also the movie’s editor, and he adopts an initially measured approach that develops over the course of the movie into a more rapid, insistent rhythm. It also helps that he has the assistance of regular DoP José David Montero, whose lensing brings out the rugged beauty of the desert surroundings, and the rundown, seen-better-days façades of the town and its buildings.
Rating: 8/10 – an underrated gem that could all too easily fail to atrract the attention it deserves, The Hollow Point benefits from a clutch of great performances, a tough, uncompromising script, and the careful ministrations of its director; it’s rare to see such a moderately budgeted project achieve so much and with such apparent ease, but this really is a movie that deserves a wider audience.