‘The Boatman’ Film Festival Review
The Boatman was covered as part of our Tallgrass Film Festival 13 (2015) coverage. For more on our Tallgrass Coverage, check out our ProNerd Tour Page.
Coyotes are people who make a living by transporting people across the Mexican border in to the U.S. It’s clearly a risky job that requires a huge amount of dedication, focus, and fearlessness. The Boatman is about Miguel (Oscar Torre), who has a perfect record as a coyote in getting everyone he’s taken across without capture.
The film’s introduction jumps right in on a journey across the border and shows the intense fear and anxiety in the Mexican citizens who’re desperate for a life of freedom in the U.S. The totally objective footage depicting a realistic border crossing doesn’t pull out any sentimental music or try to make any political statement. Crossing the border is what it is. The families with young children carrying nothing but small bags, leaving behind everything they previously owned to start a new life, is a powerful image of real human lives at stake.
Crossing the border in search of a better financial future is one thing the film covers–something not covered enough in popular media–but it also tackles the more pressing need to leave Mexico: the increasing violence due to organized crime. The controversial topic matter is still handled with the utmost objectivity, but if it doesn’t make you think twice about the ridiculousness of fighting an immigrant ‘problem’ from Mexico, you might be missing a small part of your humanity. Even with the controversial exposure of issues surrounding immigration, there’re still deeper elements to the plot.
Early in the film, a daughter, Elena (Noemi Dunbar) arrives from out of nowhere to introduce herself to her father, Miguel, who had no idea of her existence. It’s shocking to see how Miguel reacts and how their relationship develops throughout the course of the film. Miguel unwillingly takes his daughter in (more like she just refuses to leave his side), and he continues to try to do his Coyote work, leading people through the desert, and finally across the Rio Grande River into Texas.
Throughout the course of his work, Elena finds that her father has a knack for finding crash sites with dead people who speak their last words to him. This is precisely why the locals are afraid of Miguel, believing him to be cursed. This final element is what sets the film apart, as there’s something supernatural which just doesn’t add up but does add to the overall intrigue to the film.
The Boatman is full of twisting, interconnected, and complex conflicts. It’s hard to explain what it’s about because of all these different parts of the plot. It’s not just an immigration movie or a film about an estranged father/daughter relationship, and that last supernatural element just makes some people feel a little uneasy. Nevertheless, it’s incredibly engaging, beautiful, and at times, full of suspense. Certainly the hands-on approach from writer, director, producer, and editor (yeah all four roles) of Greg Morgan played a huge part in creating such a cohesive and complete film, but the star of The Boatman was Oscar Torre.
Oscar’s performance was flat-out unbelievable. He was so perfect for the role in every little motion of his body, slight expression, and word uttered. With a character like Miguel, who shows so little emotion and tries to be a hardened coyote, it is all too easy to come off flat and emotionless. This is why Oscar’s ability to portray this character was so powerful. There was so much range in what he did, so much attention to detail, The Boatman is worth watching just for the privilege of getting to see this performance.
The surrounding cast did a solid job as well; Noemi Dunbar’s role was noteworthy as the determined daughter. Overall the performances, combined with the intense subject matter, make this film a must-see for any lover of film.
Of all the over-the-top, incredible films I saw at 2015’s Tallgrass Film Festival (and they were all stellar), this one was my favorite. It’s a little bit weird, a little controversial, and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea because of that, but it is undeniably an incredible film.