UMP Review – Frontera

A border-zone drama with good acting provided by Harris and Pena, but offering not much thought-provoking content.

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Michael Berry’s haunting drama touches numerous problems, that are rooted not only in the American dream concept seen from behind the borderline, but also the American reality itself. The reversed point of idealism of “Frontera” is by far the most remarkable feature to emphasize; although we observe the back-breaking pursuit for the better life, the director proves, that all in all it is not about the country, but the people and only them.

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Miguel (Michael Pena) is a loving husband and a father as well, who sacrifices his life to provide the beloved ones with better future – following the well-known path, he crosses the American border plus added a stranger appointed by his father. As the pair of Mexicans strive to find the right track, they meet a wife of local ex-sheriff, Roy (Ed Harris), who offers them blankets and water. At the same time, three teenagers grab rifles and drive to the desert to “spook” the Mexicans, who do their best to cross the border and make the American dream come true. The story becomes suddenly tragic, when the foolish spooking game get out of control and as a consequence of a terrible accident, Roy’s wife dies.

This year has been definitely a coming-back of the western genre. Even though the classic concept of a western has dramatically changed, the cowboy-reality movies popped out from time to time and they were quite a successful attempts – just to mention “The Homesmen” by Tommy Lee Jones. “Frontera”, being undoubtedly inspired by western’s pattern, mixes the Mexican spirit with American brutal reality. Berry cherishes the quiet borderlands, where Miguel leads a peaceful life and teams it with the harrow events taking place on the other side of the fence – quite opposite as we used to see it. What’s more, Berry does not try to be shallow in his overview: there are bad guys on both sides. Even though he deliberately criticizes the never-ending immigration, the director puts emphasis on the bright side of the story – the ones, who remain unspoiled in the spoiled world. In “Frontera”, this unspoiled fraction constitutes Roy, played magnificently by Ed Harris.

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It’s hard to disagree with the fact, that “Frontera” balances on the thick line of cliché all the time. It is striking how many topics Berry decided to touch, which causes some lack of  coherence in the overall impression, which then left me with this intriguing question – why was this movie exactly directed? Was it supposed to be a manifesto of easy-implied criticism, attached on one or other side of the border? Or maybe the main idea was to prove, that there is no way of establishing a well-balanced cooperation in these two separate worlds, because those are completely different realities?

Undoubtedly, this huge range of issues lets the director find some interesting observations. Berry convinces his audience, that bad people exhibit their nature on both sides, making use of those ones, whose only hope gets buried. “Frontera” casts a shadow on the American, blind nationalism and its stupidity at the core. The prejudices are deeply rooted in the culture and goaded by the fact, that immigrants also corrupt the system – the fact barely shown by Berry.

All in all, “Frontera” deserves to give it a shot. The movie manages to deliver some emotional story, backed up by workmanlike performances by Harris and Pena. Although some of the messages floating out from the screen seem a bit cliched, it is vital to touch those subtle issues as well. And if someone is still not encouraged, I address this film to all the anti-fans of Eva Longoria – let “Frontera” be the evidence, that her career is not only based on her looks. At least, not only.

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