Rated: R for strong violence and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 14, 2016 Released by: STX Entertainment
A straightforward thriller, high on action, low on depth of story and character or political commentary, comes from the co-writer of Gravity, and won't be essential viewing for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump (looking to 'make America great again' and faring a little better in his second debate against Hillary Clinton though more eyes appeared to be on wife Melania's outfit).
Jonas Cuaron's Desierto (in Spanish and English with subtitles) can be viewed as an uncomplicated morality tale with an air of camaraderie going back to films featuring estimable thespians, including Richard Widmark and Andy Griffith.
Undocumented folks from south of the border looking to realize a better existence have a sensible and sympathetic compatriot in Moises, etched effectively by Guadalajara native Gael Garcia Bernal (wonderful in The Motorcycle Diaries, besides formidable work in Rosewater, Babel and Bad Education, to name three more). He's accompanied by a younger lass, Adela (Alondra Hidalgo), heard quoting the Old Testament early on in their pilgrimage before their transportation goes awry.
It turns out to be a chase filled with much mayhem and carnage thanks to menacing, whiskey-swilling, high-powered rifle-carrying Sam (a leaner Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the nasty Negan of AMC's original series The Walking Dead and remembered from Watchmen and The Losers) who acts as his own border patrol having his own views about his country's governing body.
The deranged, bearded bigot puts a physicality into the part as little dialogue exists overall in the screenplay; most of his lies with his trusty, fearsome hunting dog Tracker who vigorously contributes to the violence before the story becomes more cat-and-mouse with some tautly rendered scenes by Cuaron.
A white (and red) knuckler is what the filmmaking (and script assisted by Mateo Garcia) is aiming for, and often succeeds in a viscerally-styled action quotient (maybe going too much for the jugular) though not really trying to say a lot, at least about a national xenophobia. Pathos like the cited Sandra Bullock-George Clooney starrer obviously isn't much in demand as a sadistically cunning Sam tells Tracker, "let's go huntin'."
The 34-year-old filmmaker (son and apprentice of Alfonso) who also edits with noticeable deftness works in some deep-focus tracking shots (complements of crisp cinematography using the desolate setting well) into his version of survival. Yet, despite the pedigree at hand here, there's a point where the savagery proves more harmful than expected which may have a few on the opposite side of a fleet, if ephemeral migrant look. Perhaps for a little while, anyway.