Well, this has been quite the weekend so far film-wise! Thanks to the wonder that is On Demand (which again, IS something I have to PAY to see films on), I was able to catch a new offering (ahead of theatrical release on September 5th) from prolific indie film distributor, Magnolia Pictures. And therefore, I give you my third review of this weekend and my….wait for it….52nd new film of 2014 (yes, you read that correctly!), “Frontera”.
Helmed by Michael Berry as his first major picture doctorial effort, the film begins in an undisclosed area of Mexico and centers on Miguel (Michael Pena), a man who we find has made his attempts to find a life in America, only to be caught and deported, as his efforts to reach the U.S. have been done so illegally. In a new plan to get to the States and find legitimate work to support his pregnant wife (Eva Longoria), he embarks with a tagalong Jose (Michael Ray Escamilla) across the desert and they cross over into Arizona. Moving away from the two immigrants, we are then introduced to Roy (Ed Harris), an ex-Sheriff and his wife Livy (Amy Madigan) who own a large ranch and land in the state. The initial scene has Livy going out for a ride and to her annoyance, Roy is not wanting her to take the path she plans to ride, as despite being on their land, it has been a known path for Mexicans crossing over. Ignoring him out of annoyance, and refusing his offer to come with her, Livy leaves on the ride, and Roy is left to take care of the overdue cleaning of the horse stalls. The scene then shifts to a residential area and 3 teen boys: Sean (Seth Adkins), Kevin (Tony Ford), and Brad (Evan Adrian), who are keen to go out to the desert to do some rifle shooting, usually at cactus, but one says this time will be different. Back to Miguel and Jose, they continue their journey into the AZ desert along a well worn path littered with the discarded clothing and other items from most likely hundreds of attempts to enter the U.S. by other illegal immigrants. The happen upon Livy riding and after a cordial meeting, they all move on. Some moments later, we see the 3 boys spot Miguel and Jose from a distance and proceed to shoot around them with a rifle to scare them as planned. Hearing the shots, Livy heads back towards where she’d met Miguel and Jose. When an unexpected turn of events occur, with the shots having also drawn Roy’s attention, his arrival on the scene and what HE sees, sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to unravel friendships, cause Roy to seek out justice in view of what he perceives is the lack of results by the current Sheriff, Randall Hunt (Aden Young), and also causes Miguel’s wife to embark on her own journey to reach her husband via the treacherous path of human trafficking, lead by an unscrupulous “Coyote”, Ramon (Julio Cedillo) and his partner (Anthony Escobar). And yet, as the story unfolds and things are revealed, the ultimate direction of events changes, and the real truth is brought to light as lives are touched and altered in a myriad of ways. Any more plot points would break the ongoing “no spoiler” rules I have, and so……
As I have been trying out more and more indie/small budget films for almost two years now, I am constantly amazed at how some of the overall simplest of stories can carry so much weight to them, and I feel “Frontera” is no exception to this. While reading the plot above as I describe it MIGHT seem complex (or maybe not), it is actually a very straight forward tale and isn’t that deep or earth shattering in the development or concepts that it is addressing….and THAT is the beauty OF indie films to me. It the basic nature of this story that really allows the actors to ACT in order to truly carry the characters they’re playing and do it in a way that engages us as the viewer. Ed Harris is simply excellent in that his role is realistically understated, and yet he SHINES as Roy….again, believable as a man on a mission, but not with bombast, explosions, and gunfire, but rather with simple focused determination to discover truth. Harris played in another indie film earlier this year, “The Face Of Love” (my Review is here), and this performance reminded me of that one….just saying a lot without having to be in danger of OVERacting. The same can be stated for Michael Pena, who plays Miguel with a very solid effort that also, to me, realistically portrays a regular guy whose whole desire is to find work and provide for his family, not wanting to have gotten caught up in the drama that he does. Eva Longoria ALSO impressed me as Miguel’s wife…and her harrowing journey via Ramon and his partner was a sobering reminder that things like this actually DO happen and ARE happening along the U.S./Mexico border. The film, visually, reflects that overall tone established by the story as well, giving us the various looks at the plight of each character and how their choices have affected the overall situation. The film has several sections of subtitles, but this did not at all interrupt my own focus or enjoyment of the movie, as I was very much drawn into it. This IS straight drama, and anyone LOOKING for some kind of action film will certainly be disappointed, as that is NOT what it is supposed to be anyway. It’s a modern Western in many respects, and done so with that basic approach that is SO refreshing and a welcome break from the craziness of having once seen nothing BUT big-budget mainstream films. These days, it is more THIS type of film that has lent itself to a much more fulfilling viewing experience. For a first time director, Michael Berry has a good future ahead, even as he is wrapping up his second major indie film, “Stuck“, for release in 2015…and it’s a musical no less! Variety is the spice of life!
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!