Nov 29, 2011
Any film that enables me to emphasize with the plight of drug-smuggling illegal aliens from South of the border must be doing something right. Thus, it is to my surprise that The Border (1982) directed by Tony Richardson is an undeservedly unknown work, especially considering that it stars veteran actor Jack Nicholson and fellow classic Hollywood macho men like Harvey Keitel and Warren Oates. Equipped with a most delightfully brutal climax that is guaranteed to make any biker whore wet, it is no wonder that Peckinpah player Oates is featured in the film. Walon Green – co-writer of the screenplay for The Wild Bunch (1969) – also contributed his maverick screenwriting talents to The Border. Although set in contemporary Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border, The Border is essentially a testosterone-driven neo-Western with sentimentalist socio-political undertones that paces quite gracefully, like a true proud and stoic cowboy on the prowl. Jack Nicholson plays Charlie Smith, a California transplant who continues his career as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in the luxurious land of steers, queers, and illegal aliens. Early on in the film, Smith learns that dirty beaners are not the only vehemently reeking outlaws of the Lone Star State as a couple of his fellow Border Patrol pals foster the sort of third world criminality that they swore oppose. After dealing with pressure from his corrupt superiors and his unabashedly materialistic dunce wife, Smith eventually gives in to con conformity and decides to get in on the action of embedding illegal drug and human trafficking, prostitution, and related degenerate unlawfulness, but he soon realizes that such dastardly deeds only further contribute to his misery as a lone cowboy amongst legally employed, disguised outlaws.
Aesthetically, The Border resembles the French New Wave-inspired look of revered counterculture works like Stuart Rosenberg’s Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969). That being said, I would not be surprised if The Border was overlooked during its time due to its seemingly outmoded aesthetic that died hard during the reign of Hollywood big blockbusters during the second half of the 1970s and the extremely materialistic and oftentimes fantasy-driven flicks of the 1980s. Like its raw and gritty outlaw predecessors, The Border is big on atmosphere due to its almost documentary-style visuals. Unlike the early counterculture works, The Border lacks the sort of pseudo-rebellious "rebel-without-a-cause" posturing that made the original films famous and influential on American society. In fact, The Border is a tale of rebellion against unlawful rebellion where a marginally crooked Border Patrolman straightens back up and forever annihilates the forever jagged and morally-ragged amongst his authoritarian kind, thus the film was probably not very popular with anxiety-ridden youth like the original counterculture flicks. Another interesting and unconventional aspect of The Border is Jack Nicholson’s humble performance as the Ted Bundy-esque actor refrains from personifying the charismatic cool guy caricature he is eternally famous for. Charlie Smith is a fairly simple man who – unlike his wife and co-employees – is totally satisfied with living a peaceful and humble life of monotonous platitudes. It is only when Smith firsthand encounters the rotten fruits of corruption and exploitation that his rather mundane existence is given greater meaning. Smith, in the tradition of great American renegade heroes like Travis Bickle and David Sumner, takes the law into his own hands when he attempts to rescue an infant that is on the black market so that he can reunite the cute baby cholo with its exceedingly destitute mother.
If one is to learn anything from The Border, it is that corrupt whites (whether black market dealers, border patrol lackeys, or politicians) are the central partakers and promoters of illegal immigration and the slave-driven black market in the United States. Although it is Mexican black marketers and drug cartels that import crime and human suffering via South of the border, they would not be so unpleasantly prosperous without the help of thoroughly monetarily-intemperate Americans with golden dollar signs for pupils. In The Border, Smith’s partner Cat (played brilliantly by Harvey Keitel as per usual) acknowledges that the Mexicans have their “own way of doing things.” I found this scene to be especially symbolic of the film as a whole. While blatantly expressing the dubious facade of being morally and culturally superior to Mexicans, these Border Patrol agents neglect to walk the walk and talk the talk of their assumed gringo superiority. A film like The Border only makes it all the more obvious as to why your typical illegal alien feels that they are owed something by the nation they broke laws to land in. These illegal immigrants would not come to the United States in the first place if it were not for the supremely miserly business owners and globalist corporations that so eagerly and criminally employ them. Of course, as The Border makes clear, a life in virtual slavery in America is still preferable to living in an unsanitary desert ghetto in Mexico, so one cannot honestly blame these people for risking their lives to come here in the first place. In a lot of ways, Alex Cox’s El Patrullero aka Highway Patrolman (1991) seems to be a loose remake of The Border, only set on the other side of the border where crime and political corruption is all the more rampant and socially acceptable. Making its debut nearly three decades ago, at a time when illegal immigration and governmental illegality was somewhat less glaring, The Border is indubitably more relevant today than it was upon its initial (largely ignored) release.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:30 AM
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