Saturday 9 July 2022

Movie Review: Borderline (1980)

A human smuggling thriller, Borderline features routine action in a story of border agents pursuing profiteers exploiting illegal migrants. 

Jeb Maynard (Charles Bronson) is the senior agent in charge of a US border patrol station located in the rough terrain between San Diego and Tijuana. With the amount of human smuggling activity increasing rapidly, agent Jimmy Fantes (Bruno Kirby) arrives to bolster Jeb's team, which also includes veteran agent Scooter Jackson (Wilford Brimley). 

Local rancher Carl Richards (Bert Remsen) hides behind a facade of respectability but is part of an elaborate for-profit human smuggling enterprise. Ex-Marine Hotchkiss (Ed Harris) manages all the dirty field logistics for Richards. Late at night on a desolate stretch of highway, Jackson stumbles upon a truckload full of illegal migrants, and is killed by Hotchkiss. Jeb has few clues to go by, but is determined to bring the murderer to justice.

A modest Charles Bronson vehicle directed and co-written by Jerrold Freedman, Borderline benefits by staying within itself. The action scenes are brief and restrained, with emphasis instead on following the evidence (in this case, distinctive footprints). Jeb tries different angles to uncover the conspirators, including going undercover to join a group of migrants being smuggled across the border.

The lure of profits from shifting "units" across the border is huge, and the plot follows the money to the swanky offices of tycoon Henry Lydell (Michael Lerner). He is interested in maximizing revenues by scaling up the business, pushing Richards to do more in a cold-blooded demonstration of supply and demand dynamics.

Bronson breezes through the drama with his usual unflappable presence, Freedman always finding refuge in his star's craggy face and squinty eyes. In his first notable big screen role, Ed Harris makes for an effective stony-faced villain, a Vietnam veteran now finding a money-making outlet for his military skills. The ever-dependable Wilford Brimley further enhances the cast.

The migrants themselves are reduced to faceless and nameless individuals sprinting across the desert terrain in search of a better future. The sole exception is one bright-eyed teenager who is provided a name and sketch story, but he drops out early to provide Jeb with an interaction pathway. Borderline never claims to possess big answers or narrative sophistication, but does complete the crossing with minimal fuss.

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