ED HARRIS MICHAEL PENA EVA LONGORIA
F R O N T E R A
The film begins with a suspenseful premise, and with the listed talent it’s easy to expect this socially relevant, cross cultural drama to deliver. However, Frontera skirts the border of cheesy melodrama and modern day western so much that it belittles the ongoing illegal immigrant message. Writer/director Michael Berry is either unqualified to distinguish between the focal point of the film or more interested in simplifying it to an extent that could pass for an episode of any weekly television series episode. There are two moments when Frontera validates itself as a western; unlike Lester Siegel’s line in Argo, “If it’s got horses, it’s a western,” that just simply isn’t the case.
The moment Roy (Harris), a former Arizona sheriff, hears a shotgun go off near his property he fears the worst as he races to his wife taking her horse for a ride. Roy and Olivia’s property sits right next to the Mexican border and they constantly see illegals crossing over. When Roy arrives at his wife’s bloody side, he spots Miguel (Pena) fleeing her side. Desperate to make a better life for his child, wife and baby on the way, Miguel left Mexico to cross the border and gain a job so he can provide for them. Now charged with first degree murder and no way to prove his innocence, his wife Paulina (Longoria) takes a different, more dangerous route to cross the border and find him.
Four time Oscar nominee (and director) Ed Harris has always brought a level of integrity to every project he has worked on. Even if the film was bad or forgettable, like Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood or Meryl Streep, it was his integrity, doing character work that you remembered. Frontera is no different and survives nearly entirely due to that integrity he injects into this level headed character. Pena (Crash, End of Watch) is the other reason Frontera is mildly recommendable. The film is at its strongest when both actors share a handful of scenes.
In the vein of films like Babel or Crash that use the struggle of varying cultures and races to speak loud volumes against an issue, Frontera is a poorly articulated example of that type of film movement. Without the star power of Harris, Pena and Longoria this wouldn’t even be making it to the very limited release its receiving. Berry’s attempt to show the good and bad on both sides of the border is so simplistic, and without varying degrees of that good and bad, it hurts the entire film. This person is completely good and this person is completely bad; the characters are ironically either one thing or another in a film that is preaching against that very idea.
Final Thought – Swap out the writer(s) and director and with a more intuitive person at the helm this could have been fantastic.
By: Dustin Chase