REVIEW by Christine Thompson

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Desierto is a visceral, heart-pounding suspense-thriller packed with tension and suspense from start to finish, starring Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries and Y Tu Mamá También) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Walking Dead).

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a roughened outlaw-type (Sam) complete with cowboy hat, beat up pick-up truck and faithful dog companion who makes sport of chasing and killing illegal immigrants in the desert southwest.

He picks them off one by one with his rifle, so there are no surprises in this movie – you know it’s a slaughter.  But  Sam not just a one-dimensional villain, he has a dog who he adores and is his cohort in the hunt.

Gael García Bernal plays Moises, who has been deported from the United States for a traffic violation.  Moises  is trying to get back to a young son who awaits him in California.  He carries a teddy bear given to him at the deportation center by the son, and he is hell-bent on returning that teddy bear to it’s rightful owner. Moises is a principled man who protects the other immigrants at various turns, including admonishing a lout who keeps molesting a young woman he was paid to bring over the border to a better life.

Bernal was selected because JonasCuarón knew that Bernal “felt very passionately about issues surrounding immigration and would bring to life the struggle, hope and determination that are the fabric of the migrant story.”

What is a surprise is the visceral punch this film delivers to the gut very early on, and the empathy Cuarón skillfully conjures up in the audience.  Who are these people so desperate to risk their lives to cross the treacherous desert between the United States and Mexico? People fleeing their homeland from whatever horror they were experiencing find a new horror in the desert, from the human traffickers called coyotes who were paid a large sum to transport them safely to the madman who stalks them to the desert itself.

DESIERTO was about 10 years in the making, which was co-written with father and son team Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón.  Father and collaborator Alfonso said he was impressed by the confidence and skill of his son, who was not only the co-writer, but the director, producer and editor.   “Not only with the script, but later his decisions with the actors, and…in the desert which is like another character, and his visual decisions.” Alfonso Cuarón said “GRAVITY was inspired by the first reading of DESIERTO.”

DESIERTO is well worth the admission price.  See it in the theater on the large screen.  Opens today, Friday October 14th in theaters nationwide. IN THEATERS TODAY.

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