Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Hollow Point: Ian McShane vs. the Cartels

It used to be easier for the Mexican cartels to get guns and ammo when the Obama Administration was just shipping it down there directly, as part of the super-well-conceived Operation Fast and Furious. Now they have to go to the bother of smuggling it themselves. Naturally, when a shipment goes missing it makes them mean mad. That also spells trouble for a newly appointed Arizona sheriff trying to maintain some semblance of law & order in Gonzalo López-Gallego’s The Hollow Point (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Cantankerous old Sheriff Leland might be an embarrassing dinosaur, but he was sufficiently on-the-spot to intercept one of the cartel’s squirreliest gun-runners. Unfortunately, he wound up shooting the suspect in the process. It was legitimately self-defense, but it is still sufficient grounds to cashier him out of office and replace him with Wallace, the returning native son. He will have no honeymoon period when he realizes his estranged childhood pal Clive Mercy was the deceased smuggler’s missing partner.

So yes, the cartel’s nose is a little out of joint. For handy reference, they have an actual list of people they wanted killed. Of course, Mercy is at the top, but so is his girlfriend, Wallace’s ex, Marla. As part of their scorched earth campaign of retribution, they even want Diaz, the sleazebag used car salesman who brokered the deal painfully executed if he cannot cough up sufficient financial compensation. Much to Wallace’s disappointment, their assassin appears to be some sort of uniformed county law enforcement officer. His first run-in with the professional killer is so painful and scarring, it drives Wallace to form an alliance with his former rival and predecessor, the salty Leland.

You have to give López-Gallego credit for not doing things by half-measures. He puts Leland and especially Wallace through the wringer and then some. He is certainly willing to go over-the-top and back again, but there is nothing cartoony about the violence. It is as brutal as real life along the border.

As he often has in the past, López-Gallego serves as his own editor on Hollow Point, but he arguably cut it too cleverly for his own good. He springs too many sudden surprises on the audience, making us feel needlessly played. On the other hand, he has a keen feeling for bordertown grit and grime. He embraces elements of the neo-noir and contemporary western, cranking up the violence to ten and the attitude up to eleven.

In that respect, Ian “Lovejoy” McShane’s Leland is his not so secret weapon. He just has a jolly good time strutting and snarling, which is quite infectious. McShane has always had massive screen presence, but here he just milks it for everything its worth. Patrick Wilson is stuck being the dour, serious Wallace, but he just broods like a champion and manages to withstand all the mayhem López-Gallego throws his way. Frankly he shows a hardnosed side we never knew he had. Jim Belushi is far less subtle and restrained as the craven Diaz, oozing slime out of every pore, but that is a good thing in a film like this. In contrast, John Leguizamo is unforgivably ho-hum as the mysterious cartel killer.

Hollow Point could have been one for the ages, but the cheaply mean-spirited portrayal of a devout Christian character dampens its good vibrations. Still, anyone who appreciates flamboyant swaggering ought to get a load of McShane doing his thing. Recommended for fans of modern westerns and border war thrillers, The Hollow Point opens this Friday (12/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village.