Even Donald Trump’s most feverishly passionate “BUILD THAT WALL!” supporters might find “Desierto” to be over the top and heavy-handed, what with a lone redneck literally gunning down Mexican migrants who have illegally crossed the border into the American Southwest.
I mean, geez.
“Desierto” isn’t really much of a political commentary or social commentary as it is the umpteenth cinematic variation on “The Most Dangerous Game” and a number of other movies in which humans are hunted down like prey in the wild.
Director and co-writer Jonás Cuarón (son of the director Alfonso Cuarón, with whom he shared writing credit on “Gravity”) is a talented visual stylist, providing a steady diet of stunning long shots of the blistering hot, unforgiving flats of Mexico and the rocky terrain of the Southwest.
Gael García Bernal’s Moises is among the 15 or so men, women and teens packed into the back of an ancient truck that breaks down miles from the United States border. They’re ushered out of the truck by the driver, who points to the distance, tells them, “Lost Estados Unidos es de esa manera!” and leaves them to their own resources.
Moises becomes the de facto leader of the group, helping the physically weaker individuals along the way and looking out for young Adela (Alondra Hidalgo). Among the items Moises carries is something that indicates he has family waiting for him in the States.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Confederate-flag waving Sam is gearing up for a hunting trip. With his faithful, Stephen King-level frightening dog Tracker by his side, Sam roams the border area in his truck, fueled by his hatred of migrants. (“They just keep coming!” he yells, to no one.)
Sam isn’t a lawman and he doesn’t apprehend anyone. He shoots to kill. From the moment the first chilling shot crackles through the quiet morning, “Desierto” becomes nothing more than a well-filmed but sadistic thriller, with Sam picking off his victims, and Moises trying to stay one step ahead of him, keep Adela safe and find a way to turn the tables on Sam.
The performances are strong, even if the characters aren’t given much depth. Gael García Bernal is the prototypical everyman forced into becoming an action hero by dire circumstances. Alondra Hidalgo does fine work as the damsel in distress.
As for Jeffrey Dean Morgan, given the brutal, bat-wielding villain he’s playing on “The Walking Dead” and this maniac, I hope he’s not the kind of actor who takes his work home with him. Sam considers himself a patriot and a man of action, but shouting about how you love your country while systematically gunning down innocent people hardly obfuscates the fact one is a deranged serial killer.
Moises is Moses, wandering in the desert. Sam is Uncle Sam, literally eliminating anyone who dares cross the borders without proper documentation.
Subtlety sits this one out.
STX presents a film directed by Jonás Cuarón and written by Cuarón and Mateo García. Rated R (for strong violence and language). Running time: 94 minutes. Opens Friday at Regal City North 14 and AMC Showplace 14 in Cicero.