‘The Hollow Point’: Film Review

Bloody fun in the badlands.

Western and noir collide in Gonzalo Lopez Gallego's violent border drama.

An over-the-top, heavily stylized B-movie-ish mash-up of modern Western and bloody thriller, The Hollow Point sees U.S.-based Spanish director Gonzalo Lopez Gallego (The King of the Hill) seeking to bring a new angle to the bad men in the badlands genre. As homage, the film is visually striking, littered with moments of real cinematographic intelligence, and always watchable, in a nasty sort of way, but as a thriller, its ambitions of intensity are thwarted by a plot which becomes increasingly out-there as the twists and turns pile up.

Hollow Point represents a considerable advance over Gallego’s last pic, the stereotypical horror fest Open Grave. Its pickup by Vertical Entertainment suggests there’s an audience out there for a sharp, sassy film like this, one which makes a brave stab at fusing the intensity of noir with the standard pleasures of the Western.

New sheriff Wallace (Patrick Wilson, with ‘good guy’ seemingly chiseled into his firm jaw and clear eyes) returns to his godforsaken border town to try and tackle the trafficking of ammunition, which the bad old sheriff Leland (Ian McShane) has failed to do: Legally bought bullets are being bought in bulk in Arizona and smuggled across the border for use by Mexican criminal groups (and yes — weak ammunition regulation laws in Texas and Arizona mean this is happening in the real world, too).

Wallace’s specific task is to find local Ken Mercy (David Stevens), who’s gone missing with a load of cash following a failed ammo delivery. Mercy was working for used car salesman Diaz (James Belushi), who we learn pretty early on is running it as a cover for the operation and whilst trying to get his name off a kill list.

Before long, Wallace is in over his head and finding it hard, as happens in noir-ish fare such as this, to maintain the clear distinctions between good and bad. Presumably clearer to him is having his right hand cut off by Atticus (John Leguizamo), a shadowy figure wielding a Japanese sword who is the film’s most overblown figure in a movie not lacking them. Wallace thus spends the rest of the pic tackling the multiple threats with one arm in a bandage, which at times elevates him, not always believably, practically to Superman status. On the plus side, the violence is very credibly done — this a film which is concerned not only with violence, but with pain as well.

McShane has great fun drawing from a big bag of mannerisms, taking all the time in the world with the part-comic, part-disgusting Leland, and steals practically every scene he’s in: Watching him stroll around, big-bellied, whiskey bottle in hand, wearing white pajamas and a cowboy hat and boots, is a vision not easily forgotten. The character plays like Touch of Evil's Hank Quinlan’s more active younger brother, and emanates the same air of near-death sweatiness, which spills out into the mood of the movie itself. Leland’s cat-and-mouse scenes opposite the equally unredeemable Diaz are amongst the film’s most compelling. This is largely on account of the self-mocking dialogue, which mixes the Southern-twanged, satisfyingly hard-boiled with a self-conscious striving for the poetic which defines the effective but showy tone of the film as a whole: “There’s no rest in anyone — not anymore” could have been borrowed from Flannery O’Connor.

Given the relatively low budget, Hollow Point looks tops. On one level, it’s a homage to the iconography of the vast desert expanses and run-down towns of the genre, with its used-car lots, gently lit sundown back porches and grungy offices. Beyond that, both the script, by newcomer Nils Lyew, and DP and Gallego stalwart Jose David Montero have a lot of fun with the what-if visuals: If you’ve ever wondered, say, what it looks like when you fire a bullet into a car that’s full of bullets, or to have bags of cement thrown onto you before water is poured onto them, then this pic is a good place to start. Indeed, POV is used intelligently if showily throughout, while there are some tremendous, giddying aerial shots also to be enjoyed — not least the uncannily blue-tinged final ride into the sunset.

Less well achieved are the wannabe tender scenes featuring Wallace’s will-they-won’t-they romance with his ex-wife Marla (Lynn Collins), which mostly fail to make up for the slowdown in pace their face-to-face encounters bring, often reflections on how hard it is to be good in a bad world. Marla picks up a little more interest when it’s revealed she has a role to play in the criminal goings-on, but ultimately her character feels adrift from the main action.

Juan Navazo’s score is fine if overinsistent, so it’s strange to hear the cliches of a Ry Cooder-like slide guitar playing over desert landscapes in a film which is otherwise so knowing about its sources. As for the point of Hollow Point, it’s all about moral ambiguity: Nobody, not even Leland, is either all good or all bad. But that, of course, is no message at all, suggesting that finally, the film is not to be enjoyed most for what it says or even for its story, but for what’s up there on the screen.

Production company: Atlas Independent
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Ian McShane, Lynne Collins, John Leguizamo, James Belushi
Director-editor: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Screenwriter: Nils Lyew
Producers: Aaron L. Ginsburg, William Green, Andy Horwitz
Executive producers: Lew Horwitz, Michael Ilitch Jr., Julie B. May, Glenn Murray
Director of photography: Jose David Montero
Production designer: Adam Henderson
Costume designer: Kacie Seamons
Composer: Juan Navazo
Sales: CAA

Not rated, 97 minutes