Dir. Michael Berry
Starring: Ed Harris, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Aden Young, Amy Madigan
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Frontera has the misfortune of being a watchable drama about the dangers facing "illegal" Mexican migrant workers crossing over the border into America. I say "misfortune" because the huge number of similar films has yielded several with which the bar has been set extremely high, one that Michael Berry's superbly acted and gorgeously photographed film is simply unable to reach due to its middling script (co-written by Berry with Louis Moulinet). If a picture can't come even remotely close to Robert M. Young's groundbreaking neo-realistic-styled Alambrista, Tony Richardson's stunning, existentialist-male-angst thriller The Border and the more recent docudrama Who is Dayani Cristal?, it's pretty much going to be the cat in the bag, with said bag in the river.
This is what befalls Frontera, a modest drama which offers us a multi-character narrative full of by-the-numbers story beats, that are not without some merit, but cumulatively add up to something feeling a lot more made-for-cable than a theatrical feature. Peña plays a Mexican who gets railroaded into a murder rap after he crosses the border into redneck Arizona territory on land, too coincidentally belonging to retired ex-lawman Harris. Peña's pregnant wife, Longoria, knowing her husband is a good and decent family man follows his path, but gets kidnapped by unscrupulous Mexican smugglers who are little more than ransom-seekers.
Adding a standard TV procedural sub-plot to the already-crowded proceedings, Harris smells a rat and begins investigating the murder all on his lonesome, butting heads with new sheriff Aden Young who is, in fact, trying to cover up the identity of the real killers. Alas, all these connected threads proceed predictably, since from the beginning, there's no real mystery as to who's who and who's done what. It all feels like a matter of running time before everything's sewn up in favour of the disenfranchised over the corrupt.
What's finally served up here is something that Ed Harris and/or Michael Peña admirers might enjoy if they're in a laid-back channel-flipping or V.O.D. mood. Those simply drawn to the subject matter, might be less enthralled. The political and social implications of America's ludicrously two-faced and corrupt border policies are all touched-upon, but frustratingly take a back seat to familiar melodramatic turns.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **½ Two-and-a-half Stars
Frontera is in limited theatrical release via VSC and currently screens at the Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas in Toronto. It's availability on home entertainment platforms is inevitable.
My reviews of Alambrista can be found HERE and Who is Dayani Cristal? is HERE.
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