I’m such a big fan of the late Charles Bronson. Though I have not seen every film on his résumé, I have seen enough to know that if you give that man a gun, you have a movie. From his leading roles in Once Upon a Time in the West and the Death Wish franchise, to his supporting roles in The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven: if he is in it, I want to see it. Perhaps he is best known for his leading roles as hardened vigilantes or silent hit men, but it is safe to say, you are not watching Borderline for the story. You are watching it for Bronson.
Borderline takes place on the Mexican border, 20 miles from San Diego. Charles Bronson stars as Jeb Maynard, a seasoned border patrolman. One night, his long time partner Scooter Jackson (Wilford Brimley) is shot and killed by Hotchkiss (Ed Harris, in his first theatrical role), a ‘coyote’ smuggling immigrants across the border. Hotchkiss makes a decent living by smuggling immigrants onto a ranch owned by Carl J. Richards (Bert Remsen). With the help of the newly employed Jimmy Fante (Bruno Kirby), Maynard tracks down Hotchkiss and tries to take down Richards’ ranch in the process.
To begin, I will discuss the positive features of this film. After some research into the production, there are a few very interesting elements to this film. The first important note to make is that, in addition to this film being inspired by true events, the crew received a lot of technical help from the U.S. Border patrol in order to convey a decent amount of realism. This realism, I believe, is well captured in certain chase sequences of the film. There are a few scenes in which immigrants are running from authorities, and they are fairly long. While the long-winded chases may not be as exciting or entertaining as we would expect in a typical Bronson feature, I believe the segments accurately portray the realities of both Border Patrol Officers and illegal Mexican immigrants in 1979. As some bonus trivia, the cinematographer who captures these striking images is Tak Fujimoto, who also operated the camera in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and other fantastic films.
Charles Bronson once said about Borderline: “I think films can be educational and entertaining. Borderline fits both of these categories.” I agree with Mr. Bronson’s sentiment, but just barely. Yes, the film is educational, but only for the reasons I described in the previous paragraph. It is implicitly educational. However, the film shoehorns in these blocks of text at the beginning and end of the film giving facts about immigrants. This explicit message immediately kills the tone of the film and damn near ruins the experience.
Now, given my description of the film’s plot, you’d figure there are some really great Bronson-esque thriller sequences. Unfortunately this is not the case. While each scene is well filmed, the “entertainment” that Bronson described never really came to fruition. The sequence involving Wilford Brimley’s death was indeed eventful, but the film slows down tremendously afterwards. This is a problem seeing as the death happens about ten to fifteen minutes into the film. The rest of the film is just Bronson’s long, uneventful search for the “elusive” Ed Harris character.
I have to say: as big of a Bronson fan as I am, I don’t quite understand this release from Shout Factory. Typically they offer really great titles. Not that Borderline was terrible, per se, but it didn’t really strike me as noteworthy. It doesn’t seem like a film that anyone would be holding they’re breath for. It’s mediocre at best. The DVD also carries no special features with it: The menu’s only option is “Play Movie”. Overall the film and Bronson’s on-screen presence weren’t that impressive. But if you are a hardcore Bronson fan such as myself, you will probably end up watching it.