Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Film Review: BORDERLINE (1980, Jerrold Freedman)

Stars: 3.9 of 5.
Running Time: 97 minutes.
Tag-line: "Somewhere along a thousand miles of barbed wire border the American dream has become a nightmare."
Notable Cast or Crew: Charles Bronson, Ed Harris (who used a still from this as a 'Vietnam pic' of his character in THE ROCK), Wilford Brimley (THE THING, HARD TARGET), James Victor (STAND & DELIVER, ROLLING THUNDER), Charles Cyphers (HALLOWEEN, DEATH WISH II), Bruno Kirby (GODFATHER PART II, THIS IS SPINAL TAP).

Charles Bronson wants you all to know: BORDERLINE- not just a song by Madonna. Now, full disclosure from the outset: this is not a great movie. It's a somewhat mediocre 80's border patrol flick (also see: THE BORDER, FLASHPOINT) that, at times, smacks of made for TV. And, ordinarily, I would never give this more than three stars, but there are a few loopy elements that, for me, really push it over the edge. The plot is this: a drowsy Bronson (no joke- he takes a lot of naps)

leads a border patrol battalion that's squaring off against a Gringo who's allowing illegal aliens to swarm across the border. The death of a buddy leads Bronson to take it personally, which leads to some weak shootouts, etc. Sounds pretty standard, right? Well, the 'Gringo' in question is ED HARRIS, in one of his first roles.

(Of all the overlooked footnotes in film history, this confrontation probably makes me the happiest since I learned of the Bronson vs. Eastwood episode of RAWHIDE, or Busey and Mr. T in D.C. CAB.)

Harris has a really intricate map of the Mexican border.

Right off the bat, Harris lets you know hes not fuckin' around: he dispatches the legendary Wilford Brimley with a shotgun blast to the abdomen.

Wilford remains characteristically stoic even in the midst of a shotgun blast.

This makes Bronson mad. Mad enough to go undercover as a migrant worker who wants to sneak into the U.S.- only his Spanish isn't quite good enough, so Bronson must masquerade as a Mexican who's mentally disabled. Yeah. Once again: BRONSON HAS TO PRETEND TO BE MENTALLY DISABLED.

(Sadly, it doesn't last long.) The film has a certain blue collar realism to it, and it ends on a serious, educational note (re: evil corporations). There's even solid cinematography by Tak Fujimoto (a favorite DP of Terrence Malick, Jonathan Demme, and John Hughes). In the end, Bronson's a little too cheery, and it's odd to see him happy to be within the confines of a power structure (he does dunk a dude's head in a toilet, though).

Note that the Bronson posturing is VERY similar to the "It's MY CAR!" sequence in DEATH WISH 3.

Harris makes the most of his role, exhibiting shades of the wild-eyed intensity that was to come. (Nearly) four mind-blowing stars.

Side note: this film features Bronson interrupting one of the more uncomfortable "Twister" sequences in recent memory.

-Sean Gill

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