The excellent actors manage to save this jumbled film. With his steely blue eyes and somber but sensitive demeanor, Harris is clearly making a bid to become the new Clint Eastwood. Lots of moments in Frontera recall classic Westerns, but the modern, realistic issues at play don't quite jibe with the sweeping sunsets and horses galloping across the desert landscape. Maybe that's the point, but there's something in Frontera's execution that doesn't quite fly. The film feels like a mishmash of genres, ideas, and tones. It's quiet and slow-moving, peppered with moments of intense action and chaos, which, if the filmmakers' goal was to emulate the true experiences of people crossing the border, are a success -- but viewers may lose steam. In its attempt to follow real-life experiences and events, Frontera's slow-burning tension attempt simply drags out moments too long. And the music, frankly, is distracting -- its constant, out-of-the blue crescendos steal the thunder from moments that stand alone just fine. Audiences who choose to see Frontera don't need everything spelled out for them, and unfortunately, that's just what they get. Which is too bad, because it's beautifully filmed and offers a rare look at some complex issues and powerful characters that don't often make it onto the screen.
While the plot is obvious and pretty heavy-handed (the screenplay is based on the writer and director's real experiences), Frontera's actors are excellent and subdued, especially considering that the film has very little dialogue. It's always a pleasure to see the earthy Madigan, whose warm-hearted cowgirl gives the film its emotional core. Pena and Longoria's unlikely reunion thanks to Roy's benevolence is hard to believe but emotionally sound, and Longoria holds her own in a quiet but considered role. The scenes between Pena and Harris are short but the film's strongest --- the kindness each man shows toward the other is a balm in the complex and violent border world.