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Thursday, 5 April 2018

Movie Review: Desierto (2015)

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano
Genre: Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $3 million 

Plot: A group of people trying to cross a border from Mexico to the United States encounter a man, who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands 

'''Most Dangerous Game''-Based Slow-Burner Which Needed More Bite'

A film that is unhinged by some ugly & unsettling political undertones, Desierto is still a somewhat decent minimalistic thriller that gets better as the story advances after a slow start. Much like with John Woo's Hard Target, in Desierto, the plotline is a take on The Most Dangerous Game format, where the hunter sets their sights on the hunted, thus a game of cat & mouse ensues. 

After their truck breaks down, 4 Mexican migrants attempt to make their way across the U.S border. A hunter in Sam with his dog named Tracker notices the group and begins to shoot each one of them at a time with his rifle. As Sam and Tracker are in hot pursuit, leader Moises has to navigate himself and the others way through & safely. With Moises eager to see his son. 

The main problems with this film are the almost lack of dialogue and characterisation of each of the characters. The motivations of Sam are never made clear, despite the film showing an image of a Confederate flag on his truck and that he acts and goes about his killings like a serial killer. Instead, the film relies on showing what it is happening. More show and less tell and director, Cuaron doesn't waste time bombarding the viewer with each act & showing each hit and kill. However, he also sacrifices any attempts at character building and they are all devoid of personality; because of that, as an audience, we or I, never get a deeper sense of the type of people they are. It also gives off the impression these are people exist in the film, just to get bumped off, and nothing more. It's a bit of a shame. And with Sam, it's almost as if he is killing these people at random, or for fun. Or it's because he is a racist, which he is. Yet the writer doesn't provide Sam with any more of a thorough reason or explanation for behaving in the way that he does. 

Desierto opts for the B-movie approach & a horror-slasher-like convention when it isn't a horror flick, but the execution is stifled. Despite some watchable scenes later on and putting aside the socio-political issues that may arise or others will pinpoint out, some of the tension is undercut by the lack of genuine excitement and thrills a film of this type should elicit more of. But as the third act is fuelled by a suspenseful chase and battle for survival between Sam and Moises, it is only then that Desierto gives it that extra boost it needed to keep me peeled.

Performances-wise, overall, it is okay, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Gael Garcia Bernal and Alondra Higalo as the main leads; Yet Morgan's Sam is too reliant on the dog and without his trusted and deadly canine, it turns out he is a wimp and doesn't pose much of a threat to Moises. Which is a little bit odd, but at the same time, Sam was a cold-hearted, despicable person. Bernal as Moises, meanwhile, comes across as earnest and is on the offensive, as well as defensive. I enjoy seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan on screen, and whilst his character is lacking in terms of dimension, he still performs well to the task. He can play the easy-mannered and cool good guy and sociopathic, scumbag bad guy roles, really well and he has charm and charisma too. For me, he can tackle any genre, rom-com, action, thriller, drama - yet, and I say this again, I wished he got better and meatier roles in better and more established commercial affairs, because he is one of those actors who has been languishing in lesser movie fare, and yet who deserves bigger onscreen opportunities to stretch his craft even further. & with Desierto, in the hands of a more capable and established director at the helm, they would have (hopefully) extracted that out of Morgan. And Bernal is believable and doesn't overplay his role, even if appearance-wise, his character resembles Ash from Pokemon with the baseball cap & blue t-shirt. 

The rest of the elements are done well, from the cinematography, the suspense which is heightened further on and it just needed a little bit more, especially thrills, to keep it going and give the film more to work with. & whilst there are obvious glaring issues with the story, Desierto just about holds up with Bernal and Morgan - without those two, though more so Morgan for me, it would be far more forgettable. 

Final Verdict:

Desierto is a film that people can easily skip, and understandable too as it doesn't feel very thorough in its development, or be it lack of character and story development, which are the bigger issues that haven't been addressed, as well as there aren't enough thrills and action. Far from the heart-pounding thriller it has been tagged as and whilst it was actually okay for me, both the lead actors delivered better elsewhere. 

Unless you are a fan of either or both of Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Gael Garcia Bernal, you can pass on this one. 


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