Saturday 24 June 2023

Movie Review: The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)

Genre: Whimsical Dramedy
Director: Robert Redford
Starring: Chuck Vennera, Ruben Blades, Sonia Braga, John Heard, Christopher Walken, Melanie Griffith
Running Time: 117 minutes

Synopsis: In the tiny New Mexico community of Milagro, locals are resigned to the imminent arrival of a gentrification project financed by tycoon Ladd Devine (Richard Bradford). But farmer Joe Mondragon (Chick Vennera) takes a stand by diverting water to his long-dormant beanfield, the one remaining unsold plot. Activist Ruby (Sonia Braga) seizes on Joe's initiative to mobilize the community and recruits reluctant news publisher Charlie Bloom (John Heard) to the cause. Devine imports Sherriff Montana (Christopher Walken) as an intimidator, while local law officer Montoya (Ruben Blades) tries to keep the lid on bubbling tensions.

What Works Well: Gorgeous cinematography (Robbie Greenberg), playful music (Dave Grusin), and a quirky sense of humour underpin this backwater culture clash. The theme of the new threatening the old in the capitalistic pursuit of profit provides a sturdy narrative foundation, but director Robert Redford maintains a light touch exemplified by Carlos Riquelme as the eccentric old-timer Amarante. He lives somewhere between the past and the present in the constant company of his pig (and a ghost), winking at life's compounding absurdities.

What Does Not Work As Well: Several characters promise much but ultimately just add clutter, including appearances by Melanie Griffith (superfluous), Daniel Stern (lost), and Julie Carmen (unfortunately underused). The ending creates numerous gaps in a rush to rudimentary cheerleading.

Conclusion: The winds of change can blow in unpredictably gorgeous directions.

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