“FRONTERA” My rating: B- (Opening Sept. 26 at the Screenland Crown Center)
103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
As first features go, “Frontera” is hugely ambitious. Too ambitious.
Writer/director Michael Berry seems to want to do for illegal immigration what “Traffick” did for drug smuggling. But he’s trying to touch so many sailiant features of the issue that his film feels frustratingly busy, as if it has been shoehorned into its 90-minut running time.
There’s no time for the film to breath, to take stock. If only “Frontera” had been produced as a three-night cable miniseries…it would have been a whole different — and much more satisfying — experience.
As it is it features some good acting, terrific cinematography of the rugged American Southwest, and a slowly tightening aura of suspense. It’s okay…it could have been so much better.
It starts south of the border with Miguel (Michael Pena), his pregnant wife Paulina (Eva Longoria in decidedly non-glam mode) and their young daughter traveling north. They spend a night at the home of Paulina’s parents just a few miles south of the Arizona border. And then Miguel strikes out for the long walk into the U.S.A. The plan is for him to find work, send the dollars back to Paulina, and hopefully bring his family across the border.
On an Arizona ranch abutting Mexico, former lawman Roy (Ed Harris) and his wife Olivia (Amy Madigan) are having a happy retirement. Illegal immigrants regularly cross their land, but Olivia has come to an accomodation with the visitors, riding out with her horse to pass out bottled water and blankets to the trekkers in search of a better future.
Cut to a trio of bored teens who take their rifles out to the brush with the intention of taking potshots at any Mexicans they spot. Their prank goes bad, a death results, and the innocent Miguel finds himself facing a murder charge.