Frontera is an interesting film because it is often deceptive. The film has many great scenes and performances that will deceive the average audience member into misinterpreting the film as a masterpiece. To be fair, the film has many strong points including Michael Berry’s strong direction and the terrific performance by Ed Harris. The film is undoubtedly good and impressive, but as the credits roll there are still things that aren’t resolved and questions that still feel unanswered, which is due to the weakness in the editing.
The strength of the film relies on the power of Ed Harris’s performance. Harris brings a dark, subtle, and performance that helps sell the drama of the situation and brings a dramatic sense to the film. This character is fleshed out and given character development. Unfortunately, few other characters are given their due time and development. Seth Adkins, Michael Pena, and Eva Longoria all give good performances, but aren’t given enough character development to be great or feel important. This is particularly true in the case of Seth Adkins, who is given very little screen time despite playing a major role in the film and disappointing because his limited time on screen revealed a heartfelt and moving performance. The lack of screen time for supporting characters is credited to the shift of ideas found in the middle of the film.
The film starts off as a character study that examines the moralities of all of the film’s central characters and the grey morality of different actions. This set up makes the film’s beginning very interesting, but as the film progresses it’s revealed that the intentions of the film seem to be more focused on being a “message film” concerning illegal immigration. It’s clear that a lot of research was done regarding the matter and the intentions were valued, but the tonal shift makes the film very uneven as it attempts to tell both of these stories at once, especially at the ending where both stories are attempted to be resolved.
Director Michael Berry does a good job at constructing individual scenes, which are all well shot and edited. This is part of the film’s deception; each seem feels very important at the time, but in the long run it is clear that some sections, especially a subplot featuring Eva Longoria’s character, feel very unnecessary. Regardless, every scene is shot with beautifully shot and accompanied by a melodic and wonderful score. There are several great moments, including a great confrontation between Steven Knight and Seth Adkins, but it just doesn’t add up to a strong end product.
Frontera is a strong first film from the clearly talented Michael Berry and features a great performance by Ed Harris. While there are certainly problems, it is a worthwhile picture with notable performances and moments. It’s a good film that got dangerously close to great. Grade: C