We’ve all heard the harrowing stories of border violence carried out by murderous Mexican drug cartels shipping their illicit merchandise northward into the United States, but there’s an inconvenient flip side to that narrative that gets very little coverage in American media: the reverse flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico. Indeed, the fact that U.S. border states like Arizona also have some of the most lax firearms regulations in the country has been a boon to Mexican cartels who depend on arms trafficking from American citizens to do their dirty work south of the border.
In 600 Millas (600 Miles), first-time Mexican director Gabriel Ripstein (who, incidentally, is the son of Arturo Ripstein) takes on the not-so-organized world of small-time gun running, with Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer (Guten Tag, Ramón), and Harrison Thomas as a trio of characters who get in a little too far over their heads.
Ferrer’s Arnulfo Rubio is a young and hungry up-and-comer with the Sinaloa cartel who works with his gringo friend (Thomas) to purchase and ship weapons across the border to his contacts in Culiacán. Little do they know that their movements are being followed by ATF Agent Hank Harris (Roth). When Harris eventually makes a move, things go wrong fast, and he is kidnapped by Rubio and hauled 600 miles into the heart of Mexico to be delivered to Rubio’s cartel contacts. Along the way, the two adversaries begin to warm to one another, but a tragic spiral of violence awaits them at their destination.
In this trailer we are presented with an uncut scene from early on in the film, in which Harrison Thomas’ character shops for assault rifles at an Arizona gun store. Handheld camera work, dim, unaesthetic fluorescent lighting and jump cuts give a sense of the film’s non-fiction feel, while impressive, naturalistic performances from a nervous Thomas and the anonymous gun store attendant further the sense of documentary realism. Ultimately, this entirely plausible snippet of life takes on a disturbing dimension as the two characters handle deadly weapons as though they were trying on eyeglasses at Warby Parker. It is a haunting reminder that such transactions are an every day reality, and often have deadly consequences.
600 Millas picked up the Silver Bear for Best First Feature at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and just recently earned the distinction of being Mexico’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film consideration at the 2016 Academy Awards.