Film Review: Frontera

“Frontera” is Spanish for border. A new film that bears that name covers a story about an illegal alien crossing into the United States for work, and is accused, wrongly for murder. Released in 2014 it was Michael Berry’s directorial debut and he co wrote the script.  It is now available on Netflix.

The entire film takes place on the Arizona border, either on the American or the Mexican side, except for a brief time in Phoenix.  Crossings in recent years have yielded harrowing stories, of robbing, stealing, cartel drug running, and people getting shot and killed on their own land. There is even a road sign on one of the north bound highways on the American side in English that tells drivers to  move through the area at their own risk.

Roy McNary, played by Ed Harris, is one of those border ranchers that has been putting up with his government’s unwillingness to enforce the law and probably blames Washington for the problem. He doesn’t say that in the movie but if his character is realistically portrayed then that is what he thinks.

McNary, representative of not just border ranchers in Arizona but many Americans who live within 200 miles of the Mexican border are frustrated and angry at the U.S.  government over the illegal alien issue. Roy exhibits that frustration at the beginning of the film while discussing which trail his wife, played by Amy Madigan, is taking as she mounts her horse for a morning ride.  She remarks to him that she is taking “the Wash—because it’s the best trail” and Roy agrees and answers, “That’s why we can’t keep the damn Mexicans out of it,” further demonstrating an unresolved irritation with an ongoing matter.

After a brief encounter in the “wash” between Miguel  played by Michael Pena and Olivia, Madigan’s character, she displays kindness telling Miguel and his travel companion directions on where to find work, and surrendering a  blanket for the cold, symbolizing  Olivia does not hold to Roy’s views, and you get the feeling that there are dinner table and bedside arguments between them.

After they go their separate ways, three teen agers out for an afternoon of typical teenage mischief, spot  Miguel and his companion  and decide to scare the illegals off with rifle shots.

While shooting to scare the Mexicans, Olivia hears the shots and comes riding back, upon arrival the rifle bullets spook her horse. He bucks and throws her, she hits her head and lies their dying. Roy, who also heard the shots back on his farm, comes riding out on a quadracycle just in time to see Miguel leaning over Olivia while he was in fact trying to help her. Scared, he runs off seeing Roy. Olivia dies in Roy’s arms, Miguel is eventually caught and charged with murder, the stated motive, he wanted to steal her horse.

The boys who were actually responsible, now scared and confused are willing to let Miguel stand trial for murder rather than admit to their foolish, and now deadly prank.

Director Berry, uses typical Hollywood stereotypes of decency and human civility to make heroes out of the two main characters, Roy and Miguel, the accused murderer. From two different worlds and on complete opposite sides of the story line through most of the film, they form a bond of mutual understanding to show that “all we need is love” in this hard world pitting American sovereignty against Mexican desire for a better life.

Quite surprisingly, the director included one small scene that seemed to cry out on the dangers of continuing the unchecked flow of people over the southern border of the United States. Paulina, played by Eva Longoria, struggling with her own tragedies, gets raped and beaten by the coyotes taking her north to be with her accused husband. While stopped by the side of the road for a rest with the others as they wait for the coyote to say to go, she observes two men, Muslims, laying out towels facing the east, bowing down to pray. From behind, and a short distance away they look indistinguishable from the Mexican group they are traveling with.  A gripping reminder of how a failed open border policy continues to put the U.S. in peril, despite, Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security chief under Barack Obama, declaring that the border was secure a few years ago. Not sure how or why Berry was able to leave that in there, just the same it was quite chilling.

Another scene which sets up the ending  has Roy, while combing the crime scene observes another illegal getting shot. Looking very much like murder this time Roy, an ex cop, tries to follow the perpetrator, but is lost in the dust, his horse no match for a V-8 engine.


Berry transforms Harris’ character from a hard bitten minute man type who at the beginning of the movie is certain illegal immigration from Mexico is ruining his ranch, his community and his country. After the boys responsible are caught, thanks to good old fashion police work by Roy, he gives Miguel a job on his own property, something he would never do at the beginning of the film.

The last scene in the movie appears to solidify Roy’s transformation.  A man with a high powered rifle, probably the same man that Roy chased earlier, has Miguel in his crosshairs and is going to shoot our sympathetic decent Mexican illegal immigrant. But, Roy, with his new found liberalism, comes up behind the guy and sticks his pistol in the guys back stopping a senseless murder.  How do we know the rifleman is a right winger and not a liberal? He had a sticker on the back of his rig reading “Americans doing the work that the government won’t do” a play on words from  President George W. Bush’s now regrettable statement that, “they (illegals) are here only doing the work that Americans won’t do”

The implication here is that if Roy hadn’t converted his politics over the course of the movie he might not have taken such an interest in stopping this guy in the first place. In other words, conservatives murder innocent people, liberals uphold the law. Completely ridiculous in its structure. But, remember you are dealing with the movie industry, an extremely left winged biased community with a lot of media clout.

Even with the obvious liberal bent on the story, it wasn’t a bad effort for Berry’s first time out. As long as you can separate reality from Hollywood liberal concocted escapism you might enjoy the movie. For those of you looking forward to the beauty of Eva Longoria, don’t bother, she is uglied down in this role, no makeup, common clothes, looking less beautiful and more like a poor Mexican farmer’s wife. I hate the woman’s politics but I have to admit she was very believable in this role.

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