Javi (Mackie) is a blue-eyed Tejano working with his grandfather (Uribe) on their chicken farm in South Texas, just a few miles from the Mexican border. He frequently takes trips to Matamoros to fill prescriptions at a pharmacy where his girlfriend Lorena (Leal) works – sort of a one-stop shop – while he’s saving up some cash to bring her into the U.S. They plan on starting a new life in San Antonio, but to say "Things go awry" would be an understatement, and Javi finds himself plunged into the deep end of drug trafficking for Lorena’s sleazy brother Adelio (Gonzalez) and his ruthless boss Gloria (Perez-Trevino).
The film is an action-packed thriller-Western hybrid, but it takes a dreamy pace in setting up the story (the first 20 minutes or so are rather languid). In the hands of Austin-based director David Blue Garcia (a veteran cinematographer who has worked on Owen Egerton’s Blood Fest and SXSW 2009 favorite Artois the Goat) Tejano offers some truly gorgeous scenes. Every frame is a painting of a border town: Lines compose shots of the desolate roadways and fields, while matching the imposing border fence. A steady constant in the background is a legion of wind turbines; they set a pace and keep time as a metronome does, even when that pace eventually speeds up. The factory Gloria owns and operates (her “legitimate” business) feels like a torture chamber, featuring machine parts – brutal, threatening tools that facilitate workplace “accidents.” The story (credited to Garcia and Artois co-writer/director Kyle Bogart) is riddled with subtleties that come to light later on. There’s a scene of a shopkeeper in Matamoros with a mop and bucket cleaning blood from the sidewalk while faint mariachi music filters in from a distance. The effect here is twofold: A wordless detail lets on that this is a dangerous place, and it’s also a foreshadowing device – blood will most certainly be spilled. There’s a more obvious metaphor with Javi and his grandfather sitting on a tractor peeling oranges (not an apple, but still perhaps a fruit of knowledge), and Abuelo tells Javi he hopes the boy will go further than he can. There’s a snake in the grass when a bad man is killed. The story itself slithers with twists and turns and unexpected betrayals. It’s almost ridiculous how many characters die in this film. The finale is more of a horror-trope ending (which recalls a bit of Blood Fest dialogue), but it’s also unmistakably Western. I don’t want to give it away, but somebody is bound to ride off into that breathtaking South Texas sunset.
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