review for The Milagro Beanfield War on AllMovie

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
by Derek Armstrong review

Famed liberal Robert Redford was apparently not a huge Ronald Reagan fan. After directing best picture winner Ordinary People in 1980, he took the entire Reagan administration off from directing -- and when he finally returned in 1988, it was helming a film that functions as a socialist thumb in the eye to Reagan's union-busting policies. The Milagro Beanfield War is more entertaining than that sounds, but not a lot more. It basically functions as a case study of small-town New Mexican farmers who try to continue their livelihood despite coming down on the wrong side, legally, of a resource dispute, as the townspeople at large try to save their sleepy hamlet from being developed into country clubs and high-end living. The conflict between the working man and the capitalist fat cats oozes through every frame. Of course, there's plenty of atmosphere to shape it into more of a movie and less of a Sociology 101 lesson. At times, the movie is almost terminally whimsical, as one of its main characters is the ghost of a deceased elder, who skips through Milagro and bears a remarkable resemblance to a character from Fiddler on the Roof, despite his Mexican rather than Jewish heritage. What's more, the central conflict is portrayed as ensnaring everyone in town, who take their turns stopping by the general store to buy guns and shells, regardless of their age or fitness for handling a weapon. Despite a quality cast and some quality filmmaking, what keeps The Milagro Beanfield War from being more effective is that the characters seem to exist only within the moment of whatever action they're taking or position they're holding. For a movie that tries so hard to emphasize the history of this town, it's problematic that the characters have no history of their own.