Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mid-week Movie ~ Desierto and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Around a couple of weeks ago (HERE) I was scribbling about allegory and mentioning how it is often used in movies - sometimes without simple-minds like mine being aware of that intention, until prompted. I, all unknowingly, happened upon this circumstance again last week. As a change from undiluted Netflix we decided to rent a handful of DVDs from our local video store. One of these, chosen purely due to its leading man, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, turned out to have been allegory.

We first came across Jeffrey Dean Morgan (hereafter referred to as JDM) in his part in the later seasons of The Good Wife when he joined the cast to play an investigator, and a new love interest for leading lady Julianna Margulies. Very engaging, thought I! He'll go far! He has, but in what I consider the wrong direction - but then, I'm old, what do I know?

I backtracked in JDM's career and found on Netflix (or maybe Amazon?) a series in which he had played the lead in 2012/3: Magic City. We watched both seasons of that - not bad! He was sans beard back then, and a tad heavier I think. I also read that he had a minor part in Grey's Anatomy (season 9) but so far we've not caught that one, not being big fans of hospital series. However, though JDM has said, in interview, that he could probably have spent his career playing romantic-comedy-type roles, when he was offered a change he gladly took the opportunity to widen his range. He has now played, and quite unromantically I guess, The Comedian in Watchmen and Negan in The Walking Dead. In Desierto, the movie I began to write about earlier, before falling down the JDM rabbit hole, JDM is the arch-villain.

I wasn't expecting to actually enjoy Desierto or admire the character JDM depicted, but decided I ought to sample this one to catch up with the arc of his career, as my stomach would probably not take kindly to either Watchmen or The Walking Dead.

In a nutshell, and basically that's what the theme of Desierto amounts to - a nutshell's worth of plot, with a very nasty nut in the lead! "Sam" [Uncle?] is a seriously obsessed murdering vigilate-type who lives near, or stalks around, the US/Mexico border, with a beautiful dog called Tracker, who has been cruelly trained (I blame not dogs - ever!) Tracker will, by the way, before the film ends, comply with my "Rule of Dog in Film".

David Sims' review in The Atlantic: Desierto Is a Horror Movie for the Age of Trump is a good and, for me, an enlightening read as to the film's allegorical intention. Maybe the heat is getting to me, but I hadn't connected the vigilante's name, Sam, to the US iconic avuncularity thing.

Jonas Cuarón’s film sees a racist vigilante stalking and murdering Mexican migrants as they cross the border. Sims' review begins:
The premise of Desierto is simple, and blunt. A truck full of Mexican migrants, attempting to cross the U.S. border illegally, is attacked in the desert by a lone gunman. For the next 90 minutes, the truck’s occupants are hunted by this demented figure toting a sniper rifle, a horror-movie villain who mumbles to his dog about keeping his country safe. If the metaphor seems obvious, well, it’s supposed to be — the Mexican director Jonas Cuarón has manifested a villain out of recent anti-immigrant sentiment, and is terrorizing viewers with it.

Desierto is not a good movie, but it’s an interesting pop-cultural footnote, especially given its release in the final weeks leading up to a U.S. presidential election in which Donald Trump seized the Republican nomination partly on the back of his extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s a horror movie first and foremost, although not a particularly original one.
Later in the piece:
Perhaps that’s Cuarón’s larger point — that viewers can reconcile themselves to this awful violence, especially when it’s presented in a genre format via an action thriller playing out in the landscape of a wide-open desert. But the film’s battle lines are drawn so quickly, and its point made so unsubtly, that it’s hard to go much deeper. Yes, the rhetoric of politicians like Trump, who tar Mexican immigrants as monstrous rapists and murderers, is worth investigating, and Cuarón’s obvious anger over it is both palpable and understandable.

But because of its one-note message, this film isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind about anything. Desierto succeeds in portraying the savagery of racism, but in the end, it’s completely cold.
Without at first being aware of the wider, allegorical, intention of the movie, I hated Sam anyway, which was the whole simple point of this movie. I suspect that JDM was offered the part of Sam due to the rather unromantic reputation he has been gathering from Watchmen and Walking Dead - obviously not from his yummy, and rather believable character in The Good Wife! Sadly, it seems that JDM could go the way of another of my early romantic favourites, Bruce Willis, with whom I fell in love aeons ago in Moonlighting; then fell out of love with a clatter after seeing him in his Die Hard evolution - as well as discovering that, politically, he's a Republican supporter. I don't know whether a similar fate awaits JDM, but I shall be watching for clues and evidence!


R J Adams said...

Well, we'll give that one a miss! ;-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Wise choice! :)