Acting isn’t like boxing, you can’t look at a fight record, as in critical reception, and say hey: he’s won this many… Lost this many… Since. Unlike the well known writers saying ‘You’re only as good as your last book’, with mainstream acting it’s closer to: you’re only as good as your last collaboration, where that could have been with any number of jokers.
Tim Roth is with the right people in 600 Miles, and perfectly cast as federal agent Hank Harris, who is busy tracking a gun-runner on the U.S.-Mexico border. You find out almost nothing about him, as the volume is wound down to near zero, as he frequents gun shows, has random flings, and is almost dead in reaction to all things around him.
And you don’t even meet him until about twenty or so minutes in. Before that, you’re given that insight you find in all good crime dramas, where an illegal procedure is explained (in this case how criminals obtain automatic weapons so freely from walk-in gun shops in the U.S.) It’s unbelievable how easy this used to be, and you don’t have to be a gun nut to find it interesting. Filmic reality, helping to burst the damn of what is normally reported, as always.
Sitting opposite to him is a Chihuahua trying to grow into a Doberman: Arnulfo, (well acted by Kristyan Ferrer), a Mexican youth who is bullied by criminal partners and family alike. He’s nervous, and out of place at the wheel, as Hank sits in the back-seat of a 4×4, after things go wrong for the agent in an arrest.
Roth’s portrayal of low-key humanism is tapped in this production, like it was in the previous film also released in 2015: Chronic, where he played the counter persona of a nurse. In both films they are linked by the same producer, Michel Franco, showing you what happens when artists resonate on a similar level.
There’s only a handful of actors like Tim Roth left, who have the ability via presence to hold up an entire TV series, let alone a single film, and tellingly: they mostly come from the pre-millenials era. This trend is obvious when you look at actors like Roth, Kevin Spacey, or Kiefer Sutherland, starring in TV shows (Lie to me, House of Cards, and 24, respectively) where they take over the screen without any visible effort, among others, who seem to be from a quite different school of acting. It seems like there are only so many organs to share around on-screen, plenty of lungs, bones, and brains, but only one heart, for one lead, in one show.
The opening beat of this film continues throughout the plot, and winds up holding a grace in its simplicity. It’s not ferocious in its handling of realism, like Roth’s first screen outing as a skinhead back in ‘82 (Alan Clarke’s classic: Made In Britain), but it still has that linear style of storytelling, uncluttered by diversions away from how things would likely play out in reality.
It’s refreshing having no soundtrack whatsoever reminding you what to feel, where the situation, drives, and interactions of the characters are enough to create the world. And in most scenes, like where the agent and the baby gun-runner are bantering, adrenalin levels are almost nil, which is where they would stay if Tim Roth wasn’t handcuffed.
In lesser creative hands, you can mute things away into nothingness, where there’s nothing to keep you watching. But again, Roth’s mastery of quiet acting comes across here, and that everyday voice, civil, unalarmed, calm, and appeasing in nature, permeates each scene, welcoming you into the mind-set of how an actual professional agent might act in the same position. There would be no shouting. There would be no jokes.
There’s a club called The Tim Roth Club (add your own favourite acting professional in the title who reminds you of what top-level acting is). Membership only requires that you can act, and understand how to cut through the miasma of sterile, forgettable productions.
And let’s not remember what they have had to do to pay the bills, but where they have transformed their lines into poems in the flesh.
Dir: Gabriel Ripstein
Scr: Gabriel Ripstein, Issa López
Cast: Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer
Prd: Michel Franco, Moisés Zonana, Tim Roth
DOP: Alain Marcoen S.B.C.
Music: Alejandro De Icaza
Run time: 85 mins
600 Miles is available on DVD from 30th May