Three West (also known as Transpecos in other markets) is a very well-crafted first feature from director Greg Kwedar, who creates a very serious, taut thriller that will leave you questioning your own morals, along with that of the characters on screen.
Three American border patrol agents are on duty at an isolated roadside checkpoint. Flores (Gabriel Luna), Davis (Johnny Simmons) and Hobbs (Clifton Collins Jr.) battle their boredom and isolation, but also discover their own individual morals and reasons for their methods. Suddenly, what seems to be a routine stop turns violent, as a driver tries to escape with Hobbs caught in the car window. When the officers kill the driver and uncover a mountain of cocaine, Davis takes the other two by gunpoint and reveals that it was up to him to ensure that this shipment got through safely. And this is where the story takes off.
It is revealed that cartels targeted Davis and, through threats and intimidation on him and his family, are using him to get shipments of drugs through the border. This betrayal enrages Hobbs, but Flores sees a different angle. Doing his best to uncover a situation that does not result in death, Flores begrudgingly decides to help Davis complete his task.
The film is directed extremely well, and to know that this is Kwedar’s first feature-length film shows serious talent for the future. Working with D.O.P. Jeffrey Waldron (Dear White People), Kwedar ensure there’s an excellent use of colour and lighting throughout, pushing through the frontier of rural Texas. Not only does the cinematography wonderfully set the mood when needed, it uses the vast emptiness of the land to drive the narrative, reflecting the isolation that our main characters feel. Couple that with a simple but effective score and sound design, and you’ve got an impressive first feature that conveys mood and tone through sound and visuals alone. If there is a qualm to be found here, perhaps there was a little too much “shaky-cam” going on within dialogue-driven moments, distracting at times.
At its core, Three West is a character piece, as you spend most of the time with Davis and Flores trying to solve the predicament they are in. The acting is great, especially from Luna, who really does handle the situation in a believable way. The man who has betrayed what he stood for may be the villain in this situation, but deep down Flores knows that David was just a man pushed to the edge by far worse people. This is even highlighted in a great bit of dialogue between the two; “It could have been any one of us,” he laments. With each passing moment he is helping Davis, you see Flores lose his own idea of morality as he starts to take charge of the situation. What began as being forced by gun-point molds almost into cooperation as his own personal story arc is what really does drive the story forward.
The ending perhaps loses a bit of sting given what the film sets out to do from the beginning. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there are some odd choices by characters within the second act as they deal with the situation around them. Nevertheless, Kwedar and co-writer Clint Bentley do a solid job conveying the complexities of the events that stem from the botched stop, and how each decision becomes (potentially) a life or death one for our characters.
Three West is a mix of impressive performances with sharp visuals and a wonderful score. I can imagine many people watching it flipping their ideas about what to do with the various situations presented, and that in itself is a testament to the very good film that Kwedar has created.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10