The Border (1982) Poster


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One of Jack Nicholson's most underrated performances, plus Harvey Keitel AND Warren Oates. Why is this movie so obscure?!
Infofreak3 September 2003
Jack Nicholson's transition from brilliant character actor to self-parodic superstar happened sometime in the 1980s. 'The Border' is closer to his best 1970s work ('Five Easy Pieces', 'The Last Detail', 'The King Of Marvin Gardens', 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest') than to most of his subsequent output. Two of his best performances in recent years have been in movies directed by Sean Penn ('The Crossing Guard' and 'The Pledge'), and 'The Border' reminds me a lot of those. I wonder if Penn is a fan? The director Tony Richardson made his name with British "kitchen sink" dramas and he brings to this Peckinpah-esque material an empathy for "little people" rarely seen in American movies of the 1980s and '90s. Nicholson gives a superb performance, one of his very best. The two women in his life are played by Valerie Perrine and Elpidia Carrillo. The former is best remembered for her appearance in 'Superman' but has acting chops she has rarely been asked to use (see also 'Lenny' alongside Dustin Hoffman). The latter is best known for appearing in the Arnie action classic 'Predator'. Both of them are surprisingly good in this movie. Harvey Keitel is even better. This is one of his "lost" movies - see also 'Fingers', 'Deathwatch' and 'Copkiller' - and seeing him act alongside Nicholson is a real treat. Add to that one of the final roles by the legendary Warren Oates, who had co-starred with Nicholson fifteen years earlier in Monte Hellman's cult western 'The Shooting', and 'The Border' is essential viewing for film buffs. I think the movie has a few flaws but they are easily overlooked, and repeated viewings reveal its true worth. 'The Border' is a real sleeper, and recommended to fans of intelligent, character based drama.
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Overlooked Classic; Simple Jack; Great Support
MMcGuane11 September 2003
This film has been making the TV rounds lately, and that inspired us to go rent this overlooked classic and enjoy it once again. It always stands up, it never lets us down, and it is unjustly overlooked. And Ry Cooder's score is a definite plus.

This is an unabashedly simple movie, much to its credit. And that simplicity includes Jack. Almost all of the critics point out that this is Jack at his "UnJackest". Only one true "Jack" moment, and that is when he dumps the grill into that awful, tacky poolette and exclaims, "Soup's on!". And even that moment is appropriate to the situation, hilarious, and much needed comic relief.

'The Border' has every chance to drown in cliche, but to Tony Richardson's credit, it never does. The characters could so easily have become good guy/bad guy caricatures, but to the credit of an amazing supporting cast, they never do.

And OH what a supporting cast! Harvey Keitel is terrific, especially when he is trying to reign in his bimbo, drunken, horndog wife. Cat can handle the meanest border scum, but is a whipped puppy with Ms. Thang. Which leads to the superb performances of both Shannon Wilcox and Valerie Perrine as the Boobsey Twin Airheads from Hell. Check out their rendition of their high school cheerleading chant. Also loved Warren Oates as the crooked Border Patrol Chief, particularly the scene where he explains to the sleazy drop point bad guy (one character dangerously close to cliche) that their truck of "wets" got caught by a couple of honest border guards and "Goddamit, I ain't got no control over that! That's just gonna happen sometimes."

But for me, the supporting performance at the soul of this film is Elpidia Carrillo's heart-wrenching, moving portrayal of Maria. All she is asked to do is symbolize everything pure, noble, and long-suffering, to be the Mexican Madonna. And to do it with about 5 lines of dialogue in the entire film, and that is in Spanish. Oh, and she's about 18 years old and this is her first American film. And guess what? She's simply amazing, conveying more in a single expression than most actresses could in 10 pages of dialogue. Of course it helps to be born with one of the most expressive, open faces in the universe, and boy does she know how to use it. (Carrillo had a similar role, even named Maria, in Oliver Stone's 'Salvador' a couple of years later, and was equally as good. She was also outstanding as Jimmy Smits' wife in 'My Family'. She finally got her just acclaim a couple of years ago in Ken Louche's 'Bread and Roses', winning an ALMA and even having the critics talking Oscar, and for the lead in the Mexican historical epic 'The Other Conquest').

The scene that will always stick in my mind has Charley going to the sad hovel occupied by Maria and her brother to give them the money to pay a coyote to bring them across. Maria is confused, wondering why he would help them. Then she thinks she knows, and with a whole world of sad resignation on her young shoulders, without a word, begins to undress. The Jack/Charley that responds, telling her gently that she owes him nothing, that he just wants to to feel good about something, sometime, is so simple, so sweet, and so heart-felt that it may be one of Jack's finest, most authentic screen moments. Never mind that she doesn't understand a word; they connect. A simple but deeply moving scene; it connects.

Go rent this simple straightforward film with its fine acting and directing. In its simple way, it is a powerful, unforgettable classic.
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Shamefully under-appreciated
Goonboy3 March 1999
This film would probably do better if re-released in 1999. Between the casting, the scenery, the memorable "throwaway" lines that abounded, the "felt without being seen" undercurrent of quiet desperation that some of the characters emoted at JUST THE RIGHT TIMES, accompanied by one of the very finest sound tracks that has ever been recorded, by some stellar musicians (and why on earth is this not available on CD?), this movie would more than likely win a whole new cult following, particularly given the successes of some of the cast since then, the "oh yeah, I remember her/him" recognition factor of some of the other cast members, and the fact that dear Warren Oates will not be making any more films in the fine manner that he did. I don't remember this film being given the credit it deserved when it was originally released, and I wish to heck it could be given another chance, if for no other reasons than those mentioned above, and perhaps to give some record company another reason to release the soundtrack on CD!
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I can't afford a f*cking dream house!
lastliberal10 May 2009
There are two things about this movie that make it a must-watch: Jack Nicholson in one of his best performances, and the issue of immigration.

Nicholson is a border guard who tries to resist the money available but his crazy wife (Valerie Perrine) just spends, spends, and spends like he was a Rockefeller. He finally joins with his neighbor and partner (Harvey Keitel) and runs some Mexicans across the border.

Charlie (Nicholson) still has some morals and that causes problems for his partner. He is also taken with Maria (Elpidia Carrillo), and that causes problems for their Mexican contact, so he sets him up to control him.

However, he can't control Charlie, and now even the boss (Warren Oates) is mad at him.

Tony Richardson's film has a lot of elements of Sam Peckinpah. Exciting to the end.

Music by the great Ry Cooder.
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absolutely outstanding!
psychorobotape8 December 2008
this film is superb on many levels. while jack nicholson and harvey keitel both have an impressively long list of masterly performances, I believe this film ranks near the tops of their oeuvres with a handful of their other performances in films like "the shining" and "the passenger" for nicholson or "the duellists" and "bad timing" for keitel. all of the supporting cast members deliver excellent performances as well. the scenery is beautiful and is shot well. both the story and the dialogue are superlative. The plot progresses dramatically yet plausibly, at no point is the viewer obliged to suspend her disbelief as nicholson's character is backed into a corner by the circumstances developing around him. The action sequences are both dramatic and believable. go watch this film.
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Good, Interesting Movie
jmorrison-219 July 2002
Good, low-key, absorbing drama. One thing about Jack Nicholson, he seems to instinctively know when to effectively play a subdued character. His reading and performance of this character were perfect in this movie.

He plays an increasingly unhappy, and troubled Border patrolman seemingly powerless to do anything about the brutality and corruption he sees around him. Saddled with a shrill, materialistic wife, Nicholson portrays the desperation of a man trying to make a difference, and do the right thing.

Not an award-winner, but an effective, interesting character study.
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Forgotten Masterpiece
benzing23 March 1999
This forgotten movie just gets better with age. Jack Nicolson suppresses his usual hamminess, and the resulting tension makes this one of his best performances. Bruce Springsteen must have enjoyed this one too; he's performed the haunting Ry Cooder theme song in concert, and borrowed the story line for one of his "Ghost of Tom Joad" songs.
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Bombed at the Box Office
nyp018 December 2010
I remember seeing this movie at a seedy downtown LA theater, the second film of a double bill that I almost walked out on before it began. I was glad I stayed. I don't remember what the feature film was, but I have never forgotten this movie.

Jack Nicholson plays a on-the-take border patrol cop trying to go straight, but surrounded by corruption on both sides of the fence. He finally has to choose between fitting in by being a dirt bag, and being true to himself and cutting his ties with his buddies and his family.

The border is not only a fence between two countries, it's a moral line between decency and indecency, between moral compromise and being a truly humane and compassionate person regardless of the consequences.

The acting is superb, and the the plot could not be more timely. So give this box office bomb a go soon! It's a real diamond in the rough.
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Underrated and overlooked, but definitely worthwhile
Dennis Littrell11 September 2003
Although this is not a great film it is a lot better than its reputation. Jack Nicholson is excellent and Harvey Keitel is very good. The beautiful and beguiling Mexican actress, Elpidia Carrillo, handles a limited role with enough artistry to make me wonder why I never heard of her before. Turns out she does have a healthy list of credits both internationally and in the US.

The direction by Tony Richardson, who had his heyday in the sixties with films as varied as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Tom Jones (1963), and The Loved One (1965), all adapted from novels, is at times inspired and artistic, and at other times as ordinary as dishwater. I don't think he was able to make up his mind while directing this film about whether he wanted win an award at Cannes or Venice or to just sell some tickets. As it turns out he did neither as well as he might have. Nonetheless as a snapshot of poor Mexican immigrants (and would-be immigrants) as they clash with the border patrol culture twenty-some years ago The Border is definitely worth a look. Particularly vivid is the depiction of the absurdities and hypocrisies among the coyotes, the "wets," the border patrol rank-and-file, the law and the realities of life along both sides of the thin strip separating the promised land from the third world.

Nicholson plays Charlie Smith, a border patrol cop with a trailer trash wife (Valerie Perrine) who yearns to move up to the luxury of duplex living. In particular she wants to move in next door to her high school girlfriend Savannah (Shannon Wilcox) who is married to the "Cat" (Harvey Keitel). Charlie Smith is a bit of an innocent who was satisfied with his trailer home and his sexy, loving, but not overly sharp, wife Mary. When they do pick up and move to Texas he runs headlong into the corrupt lifestyle of the Cat and the cruel realities of his job which consists of arresting illegal immigrants and sending them back to Mexico. Meanwhile Mary isn't just sitting home twiddling her thumbs. Instead she is out buying water beds and dinette sets, overstuffed chairs and sofas, and other knickknacks that put a strain on the couple's budget which leads Charlie into temptation. But when taking kickbacks turns to murder, Charlie draws the line in the sand (literally as it happens) and he and the Cat have a rather rude falling out.

Meanwhile Charles spots Carrillo as the lovely Maria with babe in arms and a little brother at her side. Predictably the system cruelly exploits her, bringing Charlie to her rescue.

I think the striking contrast between Charlie's air-headed Mary and the desperate and needy Maria needed to be further explored. As it was played Charlie is just a good joe doing a good deed or two when in fact we know he is much more involved than that. I think the movie would have been improved by making him choose between the two women as he had to make the moral choice between going with the Cat's corruption or going against him.

See this for Jack Nicholson, one of the great actors of our time, who brings subtlety and veracity to a role that could have been ordinary, while giving us only a hint of the commanding and irreverent style that he would adopt in later years.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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My favorite Jack Nicholson Film -- A hidden gem
drwnutt20 July 2011
Jack Nicholson gives a wonderfully controlled performance in this film. His restraint and control is contrasted to Harvey Keitel's fallen character and to his out-of-control, childish wife (Valerie Perrine). He works in dishonest circumstances in which he enforces the law selectively in a tacit arrangement with crooked businessmen. In so doing he is a part of the exploitation of Mexican workers. When he transfers from L.A. to Texas, his conscience is awakened by his dishonest co-worker and a beautiful, victimized Latina (Elpidia Carillo) and her child.

There is plenty of action and the story moves in response to the characters.

Freddy Fender and Ry Cooder provide memorable and haunting music that just makes the whole film so much more powerful.
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