The Border (1982)
While this film failed to find an audience upon it’s release it’s a solid performance from an understated Jack Nicholson. No hamming it up for the camera as he plays it straight this time out in a film with quite a bit of talent associated with it.
Trying to keep his nutty wife Valerie Perrine happy we find Jack taking on a border patrol job along the Texas/Mexico line. They’ve taken on a new house next to her sister whose hubby Harvey Keitel gets Jack the job.
Jack quickly begins to realize the hopelessness of the situation for all concerned. The border patrol arrests many of the same illegal immigrants to the point of knowing their names yet the people trying to sneak in to the U.S. themselves are in a hopeless situation of never realizing their dreams. When Keitel begins to test out Jack for some illegal operations the plot moves forward into the act of human trafficking. Even the commanding officer played by “the Legendary” Warren Oates will soon want to know where Jack stands.
Running parallel to Jack’s story are the efforts of Elpidia Carrillo and her attempts to continually sneak into the States. It’s her story that will intertwine with Nicholson’s to where he’ll have to make decisions on who to trust and who to take down for criminal activity within the department. When he learns that her baby has been taken with the intention of being sold on the black market he decides to do “one decent thing.”
While I have to admit that the actual finale seems a bit contrived and too hastily put together this is a film that is totally watchable with Jack is fine form here and never winking at the camera. It’s a believable character and one that I like very much. He’s human. He’s tempted by Keitel to cash in and turn away until he sees just how far Harvey can go in “taking care of business.”
Carrillo as the woman who Jack wants to see catch a break is also well cast. It’s impossible not to root for her and hope that Jack comes through and reunites her with her child. Carrillo also starred opposite James Woods and delivered a solid performance in the 1986 film Salvador.
Costar Harvey Keitel comes through as we would expect opposite Nicholson and would team up again with Jack in the so-so follow up to Chinatown in 1990 called The Two Jakes. Warren Oates went all the way back to the sixties with Jack when they appeared in The Shooting together made in 1966.
Music for the film was from Ry Cooder who I always associate with Walter Hill’s excellent The Long Riders. The opening track Across the Borderline is a song I took an instant liking to that is song by Freddie Fender who was a popular voice around our house growing up as he was a constant on the country music charts for a time.
The surprising thing is the movie is directed by British film maker Tony Richardson who spent the majority of his directing years over seas. Not surprising is the fact that Walon Green has his name on the screenplay. He was also credited on Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch which was another film that took place along the Mexico/U.S. border.
It’s practically impossible not to have a Nicholson favorite and though this isn’t mine it’s a role for Jack that shouldn’t be overlooked. Go out and find a copy to appreciate his fine work and see one of Warren Oates final film roles.