The final shot in the immigration drama "Frontera" is exactly the type of partisan pose one fears from a story set along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The events leading up to that moment avoid those hackneyed sentiments.
The drama, now playing in select cities and available via Video on Demand services, cast Ed Harris as a retired Ariz. sheriff whose wife dies after helping a pair of illegal immigrants.
That tragedy, sparked not by the kindly Mexicans but a trio of snot-nosed teens, is only part of the horrors attributed to the current immigration crisis.
Roy (Harris) is no longer a lawman, but he tends to his Ariz. property like one all the same, and he’d prefer it if those “Damn Mexicans” stayed away. His wife Olivia (Amy Madigan, Harris’ off-screen spouse) runs into two Mexicans traveling through their land one day, leading to her accidental death.
One of the Mexicans, a kindly father and husband named Miguel (Michael Pena), is arrested for the crime. Only Roy suspects his wife’s death isn’t so easily solved.
“Frontera” shows the hardships faced by those willing to illegally cross into America for a new life. The coyotes who guide their journey are alternately cruel and exploitative, and families back home live in limbo until their loved ones find safe harbor.
The film imagines these immigrants as saintly, for the most part, including Miguel’s wife (a de-glammed Eva Longoria) who endures plenty while trying to save her husband. Harris, in turn, delivers another variation of his stoic Everyman, a weathered soul epitomizing the best of the West. Nobody does it better. Watching Roy process his grief while seeking the truth is the film’s biggest selling point.
“Frontera” doesn’t stop the narrative for any illegal immigration speeches. It captures what isn’t working with the current reality, from the vile coyotes to U.S. agents who will look the other way if their palms are sufficiently greased. No solution is offered … or demanded.
Still, depicting Miguel in such a wholesome fashion – he loves his wife and simply wants to work hard to care for his family – suggests a political statement all its own.
The film’s final moments suggest a knee-jerk anger that could have compromised the effective story. First-time director Michael Berry holds back, and his debut feature is all the better for it.
DID YOU KNOW: Ed Harris and Amy Madigan met on the set of an L.A.-based play and married in 1983 and have one daughter. The duo have graced the screen together 9 times, including 2013’s “Sweetwater.”