Sunday, March 3, 2013

Blu-Ray Review: 'Border Run'

There was an era, once upon a time when Sharon Stone could carry an entire movie. That time, however, is now far, far in the past. Once she was nominated for an Oscar, but she does not have the chops to headline a film in this day and age. Nowhere is this point so clear as with her new direct-to-video effort, “Border Run,” a movie that sets out to be a harrowing examination of human trafficking along the US/Mexico border, but that is crushed under the heavy hand of its own message of injustice.

Stone plays Sophie Talbot, an ultra-right wing Arizona television reporter. She’s fond of ambushing politicians who have gone soft on illegal immigration, and, a severe workaholic, she has no life whatsoever. On the eve of breaking a big story, Sophie feels wistful, and gives her lefty, humanitarian aid worker brother Aaron (Billy Zane) a call. In the process of assisting with a clandestine border crossing, Aaron picks up the phone just as unknown forces ambush him. Sophie is just in time to hear the obvious sounds of struggle followed by a gunshot.

In true entitled white lady fashion, she storms down to Mexico, into the treacherous underworld of smugglers, drug lords, and coyotes, completely indifferent to the danger, leaning on the fact that she’s an American, god damn-it, to keep her from harm. Driven by her nationalistic ego, at every turn she does the exact opposite of people tell her to do. Can’t imagine that going wrong, can you? At one point she does take a sidebar for a forced, awkward romantic interlude where she gets drunk and sexy for a moment with a hot friend of Aaron.

You see where the story is headed from the very first scene. Perhaps Sophie will come to the realization that the immigration issue is not quite as black and white as she initially thinks? She’ll come to this conclusion with the help of a pregnant couple looking for a better life for their baby, a young girl navigating this sinister world all on her own, and a chubby guy with asthma. Nothing good is in store for any of these people.

It’s too bad that “Border Run” botches everything so completely, because buried underneath all of the simplistic moralizing and Stone’s tearful—and atrocious—rant to an unsympathetic border guard, there’s a compelling story. The world of illicit border crossings, human trafficking, and callous exploitation of pain and misery, is one ripe with drama and full of stories not often explored in movies.

In the middle of “Border Run”—after the obvious set up, but before the shitty twist ending with an additional shitty twist ending tacked on for good measure (and no, I’m not kidding)—is a story almost, I repeat, almost worth watching. There’s action, tension, the pace glides along at a decent clip, and you’re immersed in this world of shadows, lies, and brutality. But the film is so over the top in trying to drive home the point that it derails the entire plot. Filmmakers need to learn that you can tell a strong, personal story that is just as political as one that pounds its fist on the table. In this case they care more about the message than the narrative, though in this case a simple account would be so much more moving.

“Border Run” is filmed in that blanched out style that so many digital films set in a desert use as a visual device. Trying to add grit to the film, this is an unforgiving choice as it accentuates every last flaw, and let’s just say that time has not been kind to Sharon Stone, and brown is not a good hair color for her. Scenes alternate between being so bright that they almost burn your retinas and so dark and muddy that you can barely see what’s going on. You can tell that Anchor Bay doesn’t expect too much out of this Blu-ray release, because there is absolutely nothing here but the film. There are no features, no commentaries, and nary a gag reel to be found. The sound mix is up and down throughout the entire movie, and hell, there aren’t even any previews to wade through before you get to the main menu.

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