The Border (1982) Blu-ray Review: Great Stars in Search of a Script

Jack Nicholson stars as Charlie Smith in Tony Richardson’s The Border. Charlie is a border agent in California living with his wife, Marcy (Valerie Perrine), who has slowly grown disenchanted with their lives as they are. Marcy wants excitement and the perfect house, but Charlie’s salary isn’t going to cut it. Marcy has a friend in El Paso, Savannah (Shannon Wilcox), who is married to a border patrol agent named “Cat” (Harvey Keitel). Marcy wants to go in with Savannah and Cat on a duplex and try out a new life. As soon as Charlie and Marcy settle in, Marcy starts buying everything she believes will make her happy: a water bed, a new couch, a swimming pool.

Buy The Border (1982) Blu-ray

While working the border, Charlie makes contact with a young mother, Maria (Elpidia Carrillo), who is carefully trying to get herself, her younger brother, and her infant across the dangerous border and into the United States. Meanwhile, Cat is on the take, ushering illegals into the U.S. for money from Americans who want workers, and sometimes children. Because of all the money Marcy is spending on the home, Charlie decides to go in with Cat on the wrong side of the law. But there are two major problems: one, Maria’s child is stolen from her at the border and about to be sold to a white family who wants another child; and two, Cat’s goons are showing up dead any time they work for somebody else. It turns out that Cat is a jealous leader, and murderous, too.

Charlie wants out of his marital problems, he wants to be a strong border agent who follows the rules, and, above all else, he wants to find that missing child. The border problem in The Border looks terrifically familiar to a modern audience. At one point, we are told that walking either way along the fence for 300 feet or so will bring you to an opening to the other side. From what Richardson’s border looks like in 1982, there is an absolute flood of humanity coming into the United States from Mexico.

Jack Nickolson and Harvey Keitel do their best to carry a mediocre movie from start to finish. There just isn’t any tension from which to build an interesting plot. We’ve seen Charlie’s predicament countless times: money gets tight and it squeezes the protagonist into a bad situation. But he has a heart of gold and, ultimately, tries to do the right thing, which, of course, always involves saving a helpless woman. Unfortunately, it is just a boring script about a story that deserves much better than it gets.

Bonus Features:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Critic and Author Simon Abrams
  • Theatrical Trailer
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Greg Hammond

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