Shirley Rumierk, Luis Bordonada, Omar Leyva, Salome Martinez and Art LaFleur DIRECTED BY
Ric Dupont SCREENPLAY
Marco Shepherd, Carl W. Lucas MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
106 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
According to the Overview from the website for the new FilmWorks Entertainment home video release Illegal, a good 33% of the adult population in Mexico would like to legally or illegally migrate to the U.S. in search of better opportunities.
Depending upon who you talk to here in the U.S., this is either a really good thing or a really bad thing. Illegal is set in the sweltering desert heat of the U.S./Mexico border and follows five tragic characters as they struggle with life on both sides of this grand divdide. Maribel (Shirley Rumierk) is a waitress in Juarez who faces the unfathomable situation of realizing the only hope for her dying son is to somehow obtain medical treatment in the United States. Ariel (Luis Bordonada) is an honest and hard-working day laborer in New Mexico who is struggling to resist the more lucrative temptation of drug trafficking. Arturo (Omar Leyva) works the fields with Ariel and is forced to choose his loyalties when pitted against a smooth-talking U.S. INS officer. Ignacio (Jorge Jimenez) is a dishwasher in New Mexico dealing drugs in a dead-end town who is about to find his quiet little world disrupted by immigration agents hoping to use him as a way to a Mexican drug cartel. Finally, there's Chuy (J. Salome Martinez Jr.), a low-level trafficker of both immigrants and drugs who really only wants a way out of this life that seems to be dominated by violence and fear.
To the lazy American viewing eye, this may seem like yet another Crash like story, yet in reality it's considerably more even if it's not quite always successful at being more. The film actually feels a lot more like the award-winning Traffic in the way that it permeates the lives of its characters rather than simply making a political statement. Don't get me wrong. There's definitely a political statement here, but director Ric Dupont has crafted an involving story amidst the backdrop of unthinkably hard lives that will likely seem incredibly foreign to most in the U.S.
Illegal is the kind of film that makes you think and it's the kind of film that will have audiences talking after watching it, though I'm not necessarily convinced it's the kind of film that will change anyone's mind who is already settled on the immigration issue. The stories are heartbreaking, though the frequent tie-in to drugs may very well bias some who don't understand all the global issues at play here.
In fact, if I'm being honest I don't understand all the global issues at play here as I sit comfortably in my midwestern home watching a film involving characters who really live not that far away from me yet it seems like worlds away.
The film's Hispanic actors are by far its strengths, with multiple of the American cast members being a bit more paint-by-numbers in both development and performance. The Mexican characters, on the other hand, feel richly developed and for the most part heartfelt in their performances. The film experienced quite a bit of success on the film festival circuit including picking up prizes for Best Director and Best Actor at the Naperville Independent Film Festival in 2011.
The home video packaging from FilmWorks Entertainment is really top notch here with special features that include bonus footage, a trailer and a picture gallery. If there's one thing that I appreciated the most about the film it's that it took its fundamental question of "What lines would you cross for a better life?" and made it accessible and thought-provoking for American audiences.