Bordertown
R1 - America - ThinkFilm
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (23rd February 2008).
The Film

Jennifer Lopez stars in this thriller as Lauren, a journalist for a fictional Chicago newspaper. Her boss (Martin Sheen) sends her off to investigate a series of killings in Juarez, Mexico. Young Mexican girls who work in the bordertown factories making televisions and computers are being raped and murdered at alarming rates. Some three hundred girls have been killed. Even though Lauren is of Hispanic origin, she doesn't speak Spanish, and feels no connection to her heritage. She wants a gig as a foreign correspondent, and is promised that job once she proves herself by completing the hellish assignment in Mexico.
Arriving in the squalor and filth of Juarez, she contacts her old partner Diaz (Antonio Banderas), who now runs the local newspaper. Diaz tells Lauren that the actual number of dead girls is closer to five thousand, and that the police are covering up the slaughter so as to avoid panic, and also to avoid harming business. The North American Free Trade Agreement is about to be expanded, and no one wants bad press for the region.

When young Eva (Maya Zapata) is abducted, raped, strangled, and left in a shallow grave, it seems as though she is lined up to become nothing but another sad statistic. But when Eva regains consciousness, claws her way through a few inches of gravel, and makes it home - with memories of perpetrators intact - there is hope of ending the killings.

This film was supposedly based on actual events. In the beginning it seems to want to be a serious drama that might serve to shed light on the extremely tragic and grim circumstances that face the women of Juarez. However, for most of the first hour there isn't much going on but a rather by-the-book second-tier action thriller. A perfunctory romance blooms, Lauren begins to embrace her Hispanic heritage, and political interests prevent Lauren's expose from being printed.

Just as the movie begins to seem like a wasted opportunity to take a real look at something important, the last half hour turns around a little bit. Lauren goes back to Chicago to confront her boss (Sheen, whose role has basically been a cameo up to this point), and in their confrontation the meat of the film is dished out. There are a few powerful moments and some heartfelt ideas plugged into the screenplay before things become predictable and routine again. The character that is set up to die does so, and of course Lauren ignores the pleas of her superiors and throws her career away for one story that she believes in.

"Bordertown" was not released cinematically. Was it because of the quality of the film as entertainment or because of the political content? Although the story that Lauren feels so passionate about is a real-life scenario of horrific violence and needless suffering, the cinematic tale of Lauren's quest to expose it is rather by-the-book and mundane. Important trappings aside, "Bordertown", as entertainment, is a story we've seen before, and it hits every single expected beat and/or cliche. Just as the real life women in Mexico are being exploited for real, it seems like perhaps their story is being exploited as a hook to hang a predictable thriller upon. However, there is an important message here about the plight of these Mexican women, and of the ever-present danger of corporate greed overcoming humanity's basic need to take care of each other. These messages can not be stated too many times, and if for no other reason, this is a film that should be seen. It is also for this very reason that a lot of powerful people in the United States and Mexico would prefer that you did not see it. As a way to raise cultural awareness it succeeds (mainly on the strength of the disc's bonus features), but as a piece of entertainment, it fails.

Video

"Bordertown" is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Running time is 1:51:53, divided in to 22 chapters. The print itself is clean, but the transfer shows occasional grain on the darker interiors. Although the camera occasionally favors a shaky documentary-style, it uses the effect with some restraint. What does get a little heavy-handed, however, is the color timing. The entire film is presented in a deeply saturated palette that serves more to draw attention to itself than to enhance the story.

Audio

The audio tracks in the film are in English 5.1 or Stereo, with English and Spanish subtitles. The spoken languages in the movie are a mix of English and Spanish with a smattering of a local tribal dialect. In the English version, the Spanish and tribal are subtitled, but the English dialogue tracks suffer from a murky sound mix that makes dialogue occasionally difficult to catch, especially during some of the many noisy dramatic scenes.

Extras

Think Film have included some text information, a collection of two short documentaries, a featurette, the film's theatrical trailer and a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

This is one of those DVD's on which the bonus features far outshine the film. A "Get Involved" menu offers text information on the plight of the people being abused in Juarez. With background on the real events that inspired "Bordertown" and information on how to take part in activism against these continuing crimes, it is the type of bonus feature that transcends entertainment and attempts to help make a difference to human suffering.

Additional bonus features also explore the real problems of Juarez: "Dual Injustice" runs for 16 minutes 40 seconds; in Spanish with English subtitles and is a short documentaries that inspired "Bordertown". It is presented in 4:3 and shot on low-fi video, but is fairly powerful stuff that is probably a better use of your time than watching "Bordertown" is. It is crucial that a wide audience become aware of the stories of abduction and torture told in "Dual Injustice". For some reason, the feature is presented on the disc twice, with the second instance running 17 minutes 1 second, and without English subtitles; the title of the feature is also in Spanish ("Doble Injusticia").

Another short documentaries, "La Frontera - The Border" runs for 15 minutes 56 seconds was made by the film's second unit director (Barbara Martinez Jitner), and tells the tale of a real life Mexican factory worker woman named Eva Canesco. It focuses a bit less on the horrific murders that have happened and more on the difficult daily lives of the workers.

The remaining featurette, "Exposing the Juarez Murders, the Making of Bordertown" runs for 10 minutes 12 seconds, consists of interviews with the director, stars, and crew of the film. They all speak passionately about what the movie was trying to achieve and about how they became inspired to tell this particular story.

There's also the film's theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 13 seconds.

The disc wraps up with a series of bonus trailers for:

- "In the Shadow of the Moon" which runs for 1 minute 37 seconds.
- "Wardance" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Ghosts of Cite Soleil" which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: B Audio: B- Extras: A Overall: B-

 


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