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FRONTERA (director/writer: Michael Berry; screenwriter: Louis Moulinet III; cinematographer: Joel Ransom; editor: Larry Madaras; music: Kenneth Lampl/Darren Tate; cast: Ed Harris (Roy), Michael Peña (Miguel), Eva Longoria (Paulina), Amy Madigan (Olivia), Aden Young (Sheriff Randall Hunt), Michael Ray Escamilla (Jose), (Seth Adkins (Sean), Evan Adrian (Brad), Tony Ford (Kevin), Julio Cesar Cedillo (Coyote); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Mike Witherill/William V. Andrew/Alex Witherill; Magnolia Pictures; 2014-USA-in English & Spanish, with English subtitles when necessary)
Frontera does not measure up as an issue-oriented film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of Michael Berry is misguided in this perplexing border-crossing modern-day western drama. It has flashes of relevance but shoots itself in the foot with a misplaced climax of convenient pat answers for the illegal problem. Berry co-writes with Louis Moulinet III.

At a small border town in Arizona, Olivia (Amy Madigan) and her retired sheriff hubby Roy (Ed Harris) live on a ranch that’s the site where many illegals try crossing the border.

One day, the good-hearted family man Miguel (Michael Pena) is guided by a lazy, irresponsible stranger named Jose (Michael Ray Escamilla) to make the illegal desert border-crossing, on the ranch property of Roy, so he can find work to support his pregnant Mexican wife Paulina (Eva Longoria, in a de-glamorized role). A trio (Seth Adkins, Evan Adrian and Tony Ford) of vacuous, macho-acting white teens, one of them the current sheriff’s son, while hunting, accidentally kill the sympathetic to the illegals Olivia. One of the teens shoots off a rifle to warn the illegals not to cross the border. As a result, Olivia’s horse is spooked and she’s fatally thrown. The current sheriff, Randall Hunt (Aden Young), incompetently handles the investigation, avoiding investigating his son’s part in the death, and Miguel is framed for the murder when he’s arrested at the site while holding the reins of Olivia’s horse. The other illegal fled. The vic’s grief-stricken husband helps the sheriff investigate. Meanwhile Miguel’s wife is left in a state of shock when she can’t communicate with her missing hubby, and decides to try with the aid of a predatory coyote (Julio Cesar Cedillo) to find her hubby in the States. That leads to further suffering for the sympathetic victimized immigrant.

Helmed by an inexperienced filmmaker, the melodrama fails to say something meaningful about the real-life crisis on America’s western borders without sounding too simplistic. It moves into absurd territory in the third act, as the slightly bigoted Roy discovers the truth and demands that the unfortunate Miguel help him to repair his cut fence so his fellow Mexican illegals will be kept out and thereby his wife’s death supposedly wouldn’t be in vain.

Frontera does not measure up as an issue-oriented film. It’s saddled with a tiresome moralistic story about tolerance, an unconvincing Crash-like story of coincidences, and it doesn’t credibly address the current hot-button immigration issue it builds the film around.

Incidentally, the far superior John Sayles’ Lone Star (1996) was set in a town called Frontera.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”