Michael Berry's debut feature Frontera is very much like a movie that might have been made 25 or 30 years ago, in the good way: A drama about an illegal Mexican immigrant (Michael Peña) who becomes a suspect in the death of the wife of a former Arizona sheriff (Ed Harris), it's actually about something greater than its mere mechanics. Chiefly, though, Frontera is a showcase for actors: Ed Harris, in particular, does something we've seen him do before -- play the laconic man of principle -- but he's so good at it, you warm right up to his rhythms.
Harris plays Roy, a grouchy retiree devoted to poking around his ranch and, probably, driving his wife, Livy (Amy Madigan), a little crazy. Early on she rides her horse along a trail frequented, as Roy says, by those "damn Mexicans." Earlier, we've seen young father Miguel (Peña) leaving his pregnant wife, Paulina (Eva Longoria) and young daughter in Mexico, headed for the States with a ne'er-do-well friend of the family (Michael Ray Escamilla) who spells trouble. But not as much trouble as stupid white guys: A bunch of bad-apple teens launch a chain of events that ruins lives, and, of course, there's always a way to prove that "damn Mexicans" are to blame.
Frontera riffs on a number of contemporary political realities: The distrust and condescension Americans feel toward our neighbors south of the border, the prevalence of coyotes who prey upon Mexican citizens, and the tendency of law enforcement to see itself as being above the law. Berry isn't afraid to use melodrama as a tool to highlight injustice. It's his very un-flashiness makes Frontera effective
Some movies seem to be put on this Earth just for actors. You look at the synopsis of a picture, and you think, "Well, it could be okay," but then you notice who's in it — maybe a performer you like but haven't seen in a while, or someone you...