review for The Border on AllMovie

The Border (1982)
by Michael Costello review

Director Tony Richardson delves into the complex symbiosis between border guards and illegal aliens on the U.S./Mexican border in a film that's often engrossing, but finally too sprawling and diffuse to be compelling. The film takes a somewhat detached view of both guards and aliens, in laying out an ethnography of tastelessness and obsessive materialism among the Border Patrol that fuels the shady deals that exploit the desperate Mexicans. Jack Nicholson, whose characters have often ridiculed the kind of minor official he plays here, is surprisingly straight as the weary, cynical guard who finally tires of Harvey Keitel's venal boss, and the conflict between them gives the film what energy it has. Less successful is the sketchy character of the Mexican woman played by Elpidia Carillo, who supposedly inspires Nicholson's redemption. Despite the film's limited impact, the documentary aspects of this situation, which seems to have changed little in the intervening years, remains of interest. Valerie Perrine and Warren Oates are typically excellent, and the sweeping camera work of Vilmos Zsigmond and Ric Waite is also worth noting.