Desierto is a new crime thriller about a group of Mexican illegal immigrants trying to cross over into the United States, only to be hunted down by a rifle-toting vigilante (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). One of the first reviews that I read about this attacked it for being political trash that was pandering to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, with everything about it being as dumb as a feminist Ghostbusters. While I suppose that it should at least be noted that it is receiving a limited theatrical release right in the middle of a highly contentious political battle for the Unites States presidency, I believe that those reviewers statements were a bit off base. This is a solid and disparate crime thriller that absolutely pulls no punches and once it really gets rolling, delivers a non stop rollercoaster ride of adrenaline.
The plot is pretty simple and is one thing that could be described as being a negative aspect of this, in that all of the characters are rather one-dimensional. We don't find out any back story regarding the motivations for Morgan's vigilante and the reasons why he would want to hunt down and murder people. We also get very little information about Gael Garcia Bernal's character, simply enough to humanize him. While some may have issues with this, I find that it makes Morgan's character far more terrifying. Back stories and motivation only further humanize the person, not knowing anything about him makes it all the more disturbing. We don't want to know about the origin of our monsters, that's why the Star War's prequels and delving into Michael Myer's past ruined those characters. We just want them to be there and be evil.
The story tackles a hot bed issue involving illegal immigrants coming from Mexico into America. But I didn't feel like they were necessarily creating any specific political stance with the story. Bad things happen when people attempt to cross into the United States, whether they be a fictional vigilant, drug cartels, or death from dehydration. Nobody would bat an eye if the plot wasn't realistic at all, involving say a hatchet wielding maniac wearing a hockey mask. So is this situation unrealistic? Not necessarily. You have volunteer groups that gear up and track down illegal aliens crossing the borders. There was also an event in Brooks County, Texas in 2013 in which an unmarked grave was discovered containing dozens of undocumented immigrants with milk crates and wrapped in plastic.
The direction from first time director Jonas Cuaron and the cinematography from Alejandro Garcia were both excellent. They captured the beautiful and treacherous nature of the desert, offering up nice expansive shots that made the people seem insignificant. It reminded me of what Werner Herzog did in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. They made use of good camera angles and shot selection, while also incorporating handheld cameras for creative effect and to some additional tension. The score from Woodkid is simply brilliant, effectively choosing when to use music to create emotion. In the beginning, we mostly hear the sounds of nature and people in their surroundings. Once things pick up, the music intensifies and adds to overall effects of fear and terror.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan absolutely rules the screen in this one, portraying an unflinchingly violent role that falls somewhere between the Comedian in Watchmen and Negan in The Walking Dead. The big difference being that both of those pictures were in fabricated fictional universes, while this one is a real person in a realistic setting. Gael Garcia Bernal does an adequate job in the role, although it's obviously not his best performance because the character was rather one-dimensional. The other big star is the desert of Baja, California, which aptly displays the beauty and danger of the wilderness.
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The action is fast paced, featuring some tough stunts and intense moments in the rocky desert. While some may find this to be political garbage, I found this to be a rather effective and entertaining thriller.
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