The central gimmick behind “The Wall of Mexico” is a doozy.
The story focuses on a wealthy Mexican clan and its working-class American help. Right away “The Wall of Mexico” grabs our attention, and the film’s dazzling camera work keeps it … for a while.
We soon realize the tale’s dramatic elements hold little sway over us. And, once the film’s obvious messaging kicks in, we can’t care enough to agree or disagree.
Jackson Rathbone (“Twilight”) stars as Don, a hired hand at the sprawling Arista estate. He tends to the grounds, fixes what needs a fixin’ and guards the artesian water well that’s part of the family’s heritage.
That water is more than cool, crisp and refreshing, but the film teases out its true nature.
Meanwhile, the family’s young (ish?) daughters, played with verve by Marisol Sacramento and Carmela Zumbado, alternately beguile and repel poor Don.
The latter takes up an enormous swath of screen time, and you’ll spend it either tapping your foot in frustration or rolling your eyes. The daughters are rich, beautiful and hopelessly entitled, like a cartoonish version of the Kardashians.
It doesn’t take long for directors Magdalena Zyzak and Zachary Cotler to sketch out their banal nature, but the duo forces us to wallow in their decadence.
Make it stop.
Whatever dramatic heft the film sports, and it’s microscopic at times, collapses with this unlikely trio. It’s even worse when the daughters are killing time by themselves, seemingly their sole occupation. We endure banter that’s cribbed from a dull college dorm debate and watch them shoot art projects befitting their empty souls.
What does this have to do with anything, beyond a caricature of western wealth? That’s a respectable point to make, but it’s “made” after the first 10 minutes, thanks.
The film’s overarching theme is the haves and have nots, Hollywood’s number one obsession beyond Climate Change. America represents the former, with Mexico providing the latter.
You won’t find answers here, just dialogue suggesting the status quo isn’t fair.
Good luck sussing that out. “The Wall of Mexico” isn’t lecturing us, though, at least not until its waning moments. Still, the themes nudged by the slapdash story rarely illuminate.
Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief’s work is another matter. “Mexico” is a series of stunning compositions, richly conceived angles and framings that make the most innocuous moments sparkle. Turn down the sound and you may have a superior experience.
Crank it up again, though, and you’ll wonder what the filmmakers hope to convey beyond a vague but blistering attack on President Donald Trump’s signature policy.
— The Movie Waffler (@themoviewaffler) September 12, 2020
The titular “Wall” finally gets its close up, but its appearance makes little sense and barely impacts the tensions rising between Don and Team Arista.
Screen veterans Esai Morales and Mariel Hemingway show up in under-written roles clearly beneath them.
The screenplay, credited to Cotler, bounces between generic life meditations and deep inspiration. It’s frustrating how deep the chasm is between the two, but the moments of lucidity are real and stunning.
“The Wall of Mexico” tracks the passing of time by flashing the names of the months. The film feels like it drags on even longer.
HiT or Miss: “The Wall of Mexico” leans heavily on allegories to comment on immigration and Trump’s wall, forgetting to deliver a compelling story and characters along the way.