In the 1990s, Southwestern thrillers were all the rage. From John Dahl’s Red Rock West and Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango to David Dobkin’s Clay Pigeons and Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, these pictures were well-written, white-knuckled, sunburnt excursions into a violent world. Sometimes tinged with a Noir edge, films of this ilk featured main characters who lived on the outskirts of life and stumbled into danger. The days of the well-crafted Southwest-set crime thriller are mostly gone. John Stalberg Jr.’s Bad Hombres is, in the best of ways, this type of motion picture.
The focus on character matters most when creating any type of thriller. Nick Turner and Rex New’s screenplay understands this and avoids the pitfalls of cliches that hamper 99 percent of modern Hollywood suspense pictures. The writers took care in creating the souls that move through their film’s violent world. Diego Tinoco does excellent work as “Felix,” an Ecuadorian immigrant trying for a better life in America who stumbles into one helluva bad situation. After meeting a boisterous Australian named “Donnie Boy” (Luke Hemsworth), Felix is offered a job digging a hole in the desert. Partnering with a stone-cold immigrant with a past called Alfonso (a fantastically menacing Hemky Madera), the two embark on the remote location to dig and make some cash.
Digging the hole becomes a metaphor, as a confrontation with a rancher ends in murder (thanks to Donnie Boy’s mysterious partner, played by Paul Johansson), which sends Felix and Alfonso on the run to stay alive. Money, guns, and crooked souls will lead each character to their unavoidable fates.
“…an Ecuadorian immigrant trying for a better life in America who stumbles into one helluva bad situation…:
Bad Hombres is the type of modern thriller today’s cinema so badly needs, and director Stalberg Jr. proves he is the man for the job. The film is skillfully executed. There is no pretension to his direction, as the narrative precision sustains a high level of interest until the final credits roll. Though dealing with lead characters who are undocumented immigrants, the film isn’t here to raise larger political and economic discussions. This is a tight and involving suspense film infused with well-drawn characters both in the lead and the supporting players.
Tyrese Gibson does well as a sharply focused contract killer whose name (or lack thereof) is an homage to Clint Eastwood’s antihero from Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. The actor makes the most of his supporting role, while Thomas Jane does good work as an old friend of Alfonso’s. Nick Cassavetes adds to the mix as a veterinarian who deals in fixing up underworld baddies.
It is in the performances of Tinoco and Madera that the film finds a soul. We know Tinoco’s Felix has never experienced the kind of darkness he must confront, and the screenplay allows us to care for him genuinely. Tinoco embodies Felix with a tender humanity, never hitting a false dramatic beat. As Alfonso, Madera (carving out a great career as one of our most reliable character actors) infuses the role with conflict and humanity. Alfonso is a man who has tried to put distance between the sins of days gone by but realizes how, at the end of the line, our past stands waiting.
As she did last year in Nick Cassavetes’ God is a Bullet, Bella Erikson’s editing keeps the film tightly wound. Working with her director, the two unspool the story with precision, keeping the audience in its tight grip while assuring the film stays grounded in reality.
John Stalberg Jr. is a smart filmmaker who gets to the gut of his characters’ motivations, showing an innate understanding of tension and dramatic shock. None of the violence becomes gratuitous, and every moment has a purpose.
Bad Hombres is an involved thriller that respects the genre and doesn’t insult the audience. This is the first great film of 2024.
"…the type of modern thriller today’s cinema so badly needs..."