After crossing the U.S. border illegally for work, Miguel, a hard-working father, is wrongfully accused of murdering a former sheriff’s wife. Miguel’s pregnant wife tries to come to his aid and lands in the hands of corrupt "coyotes" who demand a ransom. When the former sheriff investigates his wife’s death, he uncovers disturbing evidence.
Magnolia is great at self-promoting. Each of the distributor's Blu-ray's pre-menu line-up is chock full of trailers for other Magnolia titles. While reviewing fellow Magnolia Blu-ray 'A Long Way Down,' I saw the trailer for 'Frontera' for the first time. The trailer didn't promise perfection, but it appeared to solidly portray the troubles – from both sides of the fence – of illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States. Unfortunately, everything the trailer hints at the movie getting right is actually undermined by generic and formulaic stereotypes.
The ensemble drama features several central characters from whom the focus of the movie shifts from time to time. We begin with an introduction to all parties, starting with Miguel (Michael Peña) and Paulina (Eva Longoria). Being impoverished financially-stressed parents in Mexico and with another child on the way, they've concluded that drastic times indeed call for drastic measures. To better their situation, Miguel's plan is to sneak across the border into the United States to acquire a job that will pay much more than any position he could ever hold in Mexico. Once established there, Paulina, unborn baby and child will cross into the U.S. so their newest addition can be born on the other side of the border as a legal citizen of the United States.
We next meet Roy (Ed Harris) and Olivia (Amy Madigan), a retired married couple who live their lives peacefully at their secluded ranch. With several horses and countless open acres of desert along the U.S./Mexico border (a.k.a. "frontera"), they live nice, peaceful relaxing lives.
And, finally, we meet a trio of high school-age kids who do what stereotypical boys of their age do best – no good. It's when all three parties collide that the conflict arises. Fueled by common cliches, what follows is an absolutely predictable and overly preachy melodrama. Instead of taking the high road and providing a genuine and unbiased perspective on the troubles associated with illegal immigration, 'Frontera' unfolds like your standard worst-case scenario, beating the dead horse drama.
Of course, Miguel crosses over the border with a foolish partner that always finds his way into trouble. Then, we learn that two of the three teenagers are sociopath racists. With their dads' well-scoped riffles in-hand, they head out deep into the desert to pick off incoming Mexicans. As Miguel and his companion meet Olivia, who is on horseback, in a dry river wash, the three stupid teens get Miguel in their cross-hairs and start firing. Spooking Olivia's horse, she falls and suffers a fatal blow to the head. At that exact moment, when the boys literally head for the hills, Roy shows up and assumes that the two illegal immigrants killed Olivia to try to steal her horse. With her husband in jail, Paulina takes further drastic measures by hiring a "coyote" to take her over the border to supposedly help her husband. How she's going to help is never explained, but this decision only causes more troubles for the couple. Once on the other side, the coyotes rape her and hold her for ransom. Anything that can go wrong in this tale, will.
Oddly paced and clunkily bouncing the focus around from one character's generic tale to another's, the impression that 'Frontera' gives off in its trailer – that it might actually be a quality feature film that sincerely educates and informs about both arguments to immigration – couldn't be farther from where the movie is really grounded. Not only is it unlike it's trailer, but it doesn't even come close to meeting its potential. All is wasted. 'Frontera' is nothing more than a congested combination of immigration stereotypes and cliches that you've seen, read and heard about on countless occasions.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia has placed 'Frontera' on a Region A BD-25 disc and placed it in a standard blue Elite keepcase. After a Magnolia vanity reel and a commentary disclaimer (which is odd because there's no commentary nor a single special feature to be found here), both of which are unskippable, the disc is front-loaded with a slew of skippable trailers for other Magnolia titles. Included are 'The Two Faces of January,' 'Frank' (which is the next disc that I'll review), Ragnarok, and commercials for Chidio and AXS.TV.
It can be worrisome to find that a movie has only been placed on a 25-gig Blu-ray disc, but noticing that 'Frontera' doesn't carry a single special feature, I assumed that the quality wouldn't suffer from over-compression – but just like the movie itself, even the quality of this movie's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is a let-down.
The first and most noticable of the disc's flaws are the result of compression. Bands appear in any setting and scenario in which you might expect to find them – bright lights, color-grading blue skies, dimly lit settings. Even the banding in this movie is cliché.
The other flaw that I noticed a few times were rare and random white specks. Shot digitally, I'm still dumbfounded.
Having pointed out the flaws, there are still many positives to this disc. 'Frontera' carries a great amount of sharp detail. As Longoria stands outdoors, you'll see her hairs individually as they blow in the breeze. In the bright morning sunlight, you'll notice the tiniest specks of dust floating about. Longoria dons a heavy sweater in a few scenes. Each time it shows up, the soft texture of it comes through clearly. That same sweater exemplifies another great quality – color. With a highly earthy palette, colors – like the red of her sweater – vibrantly pop. Contrast is even and black levels are consistently strong.
Much of the movie's video quality is strong, but it isn't without its flaws.
'Frontera' carries a mild 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. This underwhelming and by-the-books mix is what you might expect from a second-rate television series, not a feature-length multimillion dollar production.
Although it qualifies as a low-budget movie, the dialog of 'Frontera' never sounds cheap. Many times, indie audio is somewhat raw, echoing the unwanted characteristics of its environment and settings. Surprisingly, that's not the case with 'Frontera.' The dialog is quite good, but the music and effects are sub-par.
A handful of settings and scenarios offer obvious instances for the effects to arise. For example, a heavy mid-morning desert setting features cicadas and/or grasshoppers emitting their obnoxious chirping/buzzing sound from all around the space. Riding inside an SUV that's cruising down a highway or a dirt road also offers full sound – but examples like that solely show off the mix's ability to sound full. They are few and far between. Throughout the entire movie, there aren't any places where imaging or dynamic mixing are evident.
The same goes for the music mix. The original scoring sounds like something you'd hear during a procedural television cop drama. It's solely there to play up the emotion of the given scene. Like the sound effects, it's not at all dynamic. It fills the space equally, but isn't the aural treat that lossless scoring should be.
Not a single special feature is included on this disc, so where "Special Features" would sit in the main menu, the space is replaced with "Also From Magnolia," which takes you directly to the same pre-menu trailers and commercials that kick off the disc.
There are so many movies coming out these days that it's not worthwhile to waste precious time watching something as wasteful, generic and heartless as 'Frontera.' There are far better films and TV series to be devoted to. Attempting to show an unbiased perspective on the hot-button issue of illegal immigration in the United States, the concept of 'Frontera' carries high potential. Unfortunately, the relentless clichés and extreme stereotypes ruin it. The video quality is good, although flawed. The audio is sub-par. And there's not a single special feature to be found. I can literally recommend a hundred other discs that are much more deserving of your time and attention, so 'Frontera' is one to definitely skip.