This is a case of another mis-leading trailer which suggest it’s a case of American land-owner protecting his land against pesky Mexican immigrant trying their luck as they cross the border. Instead this Neo-western is not taking the same route as the classical incarnation of the genre where what I just described would make up a good portion of the film, when the Mexican was just another obstacle to overcome. Also the then recent history of the wars such as the Alamo, the loss land the new country. In short there is a lot of history between the old and new countries. Where we find the two countries today is one trying to benefit from there other. America is still very much seen as the land of opportunity, where a better life is to be made by all who cross that border.
The reality is much different with border controls tightened more immigrants are being turned away, the Hispanic community has grown to a point that they have a voice in the country, and should be represented in public life. But along the border there is still trouble which is what Frontera (2014) is all about, focusing not on the retired Sheriff but the little man who gets caught up in the system that wants nothing to do with them. When Miguel and Jose (Michael Peña and Michael Ray Escamilla) who set out on the long journey across the border, entering onto retired sheriff Roy’s (Ed Harris) land where they meet his wife with the open arm of friendship. This innocent meeting goes terribly wrong for all three when a stray gun-shot meant to scare the unwanted Mexicans backfires leaving Livy (Amy Madigan) dead.
You’d think when the police arrive on the scene tensions would rise between them, Roy and Miguel and Jose who go on the run. All Roy wants is the truth and his killers brought to justice, at the moment that is these two. That’s before you add into the mix three lads trying to be men scaring them off with gun-shots. The language of the western is brought up-to-date, of course there are horses, guns and Mexicans, even the odd hat. What it really is, is a film about the reality of life in the border state where people are taken advantage off.
Focusing on one family as Miguel sets off for better life across the border, where he meets what could be an angel on horseback who instead of running him off, gives him and Jose water before their lives are turned upside down in the country of opportunity. Placing the both on the wrong side of the law, playing up the stereotype in the film, but not for the purpose of the film or the genre, more out of circumstance. They are not seen as the villain of the piece, instead the victim, even though they are in police custody.
You really do empathise for this family who have put everything on the line. When Miguel’s wife Paulina (Eva Longoria) leaves to join him the journey she takes is far darker, falling victim to trafficking which to a point does play up to modern stereotype, which is the direction of the depiction of the darker side of the Mexicans. I suppose we exchange the old for the new really except with more understanding for their situation which works in the films favour. There is a lot of subtitles too which shows more respect for the Mexican’s.
For Ed Harris this is more a supporting role which he makes the most of and doesn’t take much for him to get into, showing more emotional depth, age is working in his favour. A modern sheriff able to look beyond black and white to find the truth. Its convenient that he can speak Spanish but slowly though, sticking his neck out to get to the truth and moving beyond the easy scapegoat, to reveal a more complex answer to his wives death that leaves him with a changed perspective on those around him.
For a Neo-Western it’s rather on the soft-side for the most part, there are a few horses and big hats acting as a backdrop for a story about Mexicans and an ex-sheriff who’s views are challenged at the worst possible time. There are a few harder moments which show how dangers border towns can be, showing how far the country has come, a light comment on gun-control too which is not really dealt with seen more as a parenting issue not about locking up your guns away from your kids.