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John Carlos Frey, the writer-director-producer-star of this powerful 2002 independent feature, was born in San Diego, a half mile from the Mexican border, and his harrowing story about the enslavement of illegal immigrants has the feel of something observed firsthand. A sadistic Border Patrol agent, ashamed of his Mexican-American heritage and driven by his hatred of Mexicans, conspires with some equally xenophobic pals to join a group of illegals sneaking across the border and thus dramatize the patrol's ineffectuality, but he undergoes a gradual conversion once he experiences what the Mexicans endure after their trek to the U.S. Thematically the film starts off like The Believer, Henry Bean's 2001 drama about an anti-Semitic Jew, and winds up like Sullivan's Travels without the comedy. Stylistically it recalls a Warners protest feature from the early 30s crossed with 70s exploitation: the dramaturgy may be crude in spots, but the content is shocking and, for the most part, frighteningly believable. With Michelle Agnew and Anne Betancourt. 103 min. Landmark's Century Centre.

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