Hanson, whose property rests on the US/Mexico border, is sort of vaguely bigoted. His cantankerous nature is explained-away (ish) by the fact that he’s recently widowed and the bank’s about to foreclose on his land, but he’s still a man who’s perennially bothered and put out by Mexicans crossing onto his property illegally, always reporting them to Border Patrol when he spots them. We also see Hanson needing quick work and being distressed when he’s denied a ditch digging job because of day laborers.
Nothing is said outright about Hanson’s prejudices, which is probably a wise move, but it’s also a cowardly move that works to water down anything potentially interesting. Painting him with a broad “misanthrope” brush feels like a cop-out when you see who exactly, in the movie, he’s peeved with. Things are only winked at here, with phrases like “if only the government would do something about the mess down here” and “the way things are now.” It all just smacks of the creators realizing, as they roll through production, that this, possibly, was the wrong time to make this movie.
Hanson’s fading life, one of desolation, is interrupted by a Mexican mother and son fleeing Cartel assassins and winding up on his ranch. In a quick skirmish with the killers, the mother is mortally wounded, the brother of the lead Cartel goon (Juan Pablo Raba) is taken out, and Hanson finds himself begrudgingly fulfilling a promise to the late woman to take her boy, Miguel (Jacob Perez), to Chicago to be with his cousins. As payment, so that he can prevent his land from being sold off, Hanson figures he’ll use the duffle bag of Cartel cash that the mom was carrying.
As you might expect, Hanson and Miguel bond during their long cross-country pickup truck trek, and the cold codger begins to warm to his companion, eventually seeing this journey as a last-good-deed mission. Ultimately, it’s not a terrible story. It’s watchable, in all the weakest ways that descriptor implies. Just because it’s not fresh doesn’t mean it can’t be effective at times. Tropes exist for a reason, as they are the easiest ways discovered to deliver emotional arcs and morality plays. Of course, Neeson’s playing a reluctant killer here. One who tells Miguel “there’s absolutely nothing that feels good about killing another man.” The movie itself might disagree as the genre is one designed to specifically dish out vengeance.
Vikings’ Katheryn Winnick is wasted here in what’s become the all-too-common “woman on the phone” role, where, as Hanson’s stepdaughter, and a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, she gets a lot of scenes where she has to plead with him to come home and let the system handle things. What starts off as a possibly promising part fizzles out halfway through the film and finds no closure. The movie’s ending feels right enough, and dour enough, though it also just reinforces vigilantism in the ways these types of stories usually do.
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