Given all the political chatter about border control in this year’s *historic* US presidential election, The Hollow Point stays savagely on-topic. Granted, most American citizens aren’t involved with ammo-running across country lines, but cartels are no joke – and neither is Gonzalo López-Gallego’s country-fried thriller that played Monster Fest this year. Social struggles tie weapons smuggling to impoverished Southern entrepreneurs, inviting boogeymen of Mexican descent to punish those who choose greed over safety. It’s a western standoff brought upon by evil, wicked men, all in the name of brutal consequence. Thugs living by a corrupt code, who we join just as bullet-slinging chickens come home to roost.
Patrick Wilson stars as the local sheriff of some forgotten U.S./Mexico border town, whose citizens are about to pay for a cartel deal gone wrong. Ken Mercey (David H. Stevens) was supposed to supply his contact with a surplus of ammunition, but his brother Clive (Nathan Stevens) gets clipped mid-route by the town’s then sheriff, Leland (Ian McShane). Whisky-sippin’ Leland ends up putting a bullet in Clive’s head (self-defense), the cartel never gets their whole shipment and Ken flees with the full payment anyway – bad decisions all around. Wallace steps in to take over for Leland, but his investigation brings him face to face with the cartel’s cleaner (played by John Leguizamo). Their encounter costs Wallace his hand, and proves that Leland’s ways may be the only effective method when fighting true-to-form monsters.
Despite having directed Apollo 18 and Open Grave, The Hollow Point is López-Gallego’s scariest film to date. That’s not to say you should expect horror jolts worth genre consideration, but an overarching ideal of accepting death permeates whatever action fun or sunburned comedy is attempted. The way John Leguizamo saunters on screen, armed with only a dead stare and murderer’s toolkit, reminds of any Jason Voorhees slasher clone – except Leguizamo’s character has a moral compass (pointing straight to hell). Remorseless acts sink an entire town into lawless chaos, where death is an inevitable question of “when.” You’ll get your duels and gun-fighting, but López-Gallego finds more terror in Wallace’s righteous path than space monsters or any open grave.
Patrick Wilson has consistently impressed throughout his cinematic career, and his turn towards retribution keeps The Hollow Point blazing forward. When Wallace arrives in town, he’s a by-the-books believer. Once his hand gets chopped off, all bets are off. Wallace is forced to accept a world where cartels are king and payments are measured in blood, embracing violence even with a major handicap. Hell, one-handed Wallace is still ten times more badass than most western heroes, as he beats thugs with gun-butts despite a lesser grip.
McShane, meanwhile doles drunken wisdom like a true grizzled vet, Jim Belushi gets his mean-streak cooking as a sleazy car-dealer-turned-worse and Lynn Collins motivates as Wallace’s old flame – but this is Wilson’s rodeo. He’s a tall drink of sarsaparilla who dips to whatever level is necessary, twisting an innocent man into some smoking-gun savior.
In a year where classic westerns are well represented (In A Valley Of Violence/The Magnificent Seven) and contemporary westerns are thriving (Hell Or High Water), The Hollow Point is a menacing addition to any western-lover’s must see list. Not as much for wacky shootouts and desolate atmosphere, but more for a fiery plunge into ambiguous heroics.
There are certain gags – everyone in town mutters “asshole” whenever Wallace walks away, for example – but López-Gallego lassos midnight-black tension with cowpoke machismo. Characters stare death right in the face, without the slightest flinch. Wallace and Leland make for a fine good-cop/buzzed-cop tandem, but it’s not until Wallace surpasses Leland’s capacity for reaping do the two swirl a hard-boiled chemistry. Once that severed hand hits the floor, there’s hell to pay – and every debt is collected.
The Hollow Point may mosey on at first, introducing expected romantic arcs and shady sinners, but then Wallace meets a ghost with a list – and a sharpened machete. Laying on his back, industrial-sized bags of concrete strike Wallace’s chest one by one, crunching with each hit. Then a dangling hose turns on, only to have a handless Wallace crawl from the sludge, covered in a loose grey paste. This is where Gonzalo López-Gallego’s production turns on a dime, sparking both the physical destruction of trailer parks and the mental destruction of good men who can’t escape fate. The promise of easy money is dangled by ruthless men, who don’t enjoy when things go wrong. Such are the high notes of a modern day western that’s angrier than a hissing rattlesnake, competent enough to take a simple plot structure and extract the worst from it (for the better).
The Hollow Point is a blazing contemporary western that finds pleasure in punishment.