October 21, 2019  (Web Review)

The Border

Kino Lorber, 108 min., R, Blu-ray: $29.95

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Filmmaker Tony Richardson’s dour drama left audiences and many critics cold in 1982 but it has (unfortunately) aged disturbingly well and looks positively prophetic when set against the ongoing current controversy about illegal immigration. A low-key Jack Nicholson plays jaded immigration agent Charlie Smith, who takes a job in El Paso as a border control agent, mainly to satisfy the spending habits of his vapid Texas-cheerleader wife (Valerie Perrine). Once there, he is dragged unwillingly into the morass of corruption, human trafficking and murder, chiefly by a comrade (Harvey Keitel) on the payroll of a Mexican gangster. Even with A-list Universal Pictures production values, a tense, fatalistic attitude reminiscent of B-movie film noir prevails. An informative audio commentary by critic-fan Simon Abrams (often citing Richardson’s memoirs) states that the project grew from an aborted attempt to adapt Graham Greene’s 1936 novel A Gun for Sale as a Robert Blake vehicle. Simon also says that border-jumpers actually tried to blend in with the film extras during the on-location shoot—a period during which real-life migrants and even a border guard died. Recommended. (C. Cassady)