Movie review by
Polly Conway, Common Sense Media
Frontera Movie Poster Image
Compelling but obvious border drama is well acted.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 103 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Forgiveness and honesty are both explored extensively through the characters' experiences. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Both Miguel and Roy could be considered positive role models. While Miguel does break the law by crossing the border illegally, he's a good man who tells the truth. Roy has a just, fair, and forgiving response to the crimes that have changed his life. 


A woman is killed in the first few minutes as the indirect result of a gunshot. There's also a scene in which a character is violently raped; her pants are pulled down, and it's very clear what her attacker is doing before the scene cuts out. Teenagers are shown using guns irresponsibly.


In one scene, a group of immigrants is forced to strip to their underwear in an attempt to control and disorient them. 


Teens call each other "f----rs" and mention shooting "the tits off a fly." Other characters say "goddamn." Also "d--k."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drink beer. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Frontera is a drama that revolves around an unsolved death on the U.S./Mexico border. There's some language ("goddamn," "tits," "d--k"), and teens can be seen using guns irresponsibly. A violent sexual assault is brief but disturbing. The film doesn't have much dialogue, and about half is in Spanish (subtitled in English). Kids probably won’t be flocking to Frontera; it’s a heavy drama with a lot of challenging issues. But that might be the very reason to have your mature teens watch it, as it attempts to portray a realistic vision of America’s border problems.

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What's the story?

In FRONTERA, Roy (Ed Harris) is a retired sheriff who's relaxed into a quiet life with his wife, Olivia (Harris' real-life wife, Amy Madigan), on their Arizona horse ranch -- which happens to be right on the Mexican border. Miguel (Michael Pena) is a laborer who's planning to cross the border through the "wash" on Roy's land, then send for his pregnant wife Paulina (Eva Longoria) and family. When three teens decide to "scare some Mexicans" with their fathers' rifles, tragedy occurs in the wash, and Roy's wife is killed, a crime that Miguel is eventually tracked down and arrested for. The rest of the film tracks Miguel's journey through the American justice system, Paulina's attempt to find her husband, and Roy's desire to find out exactly what happened on his property and who the real criminals may be. Family ties complicate matters, and justice isn't easy to come by as racial and political prejudices color Roy's quest for the truth.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the issues surrounding border control. Why do you think people want to come to the United States? Why are some people reluctant to let them stay and work here? 

  • Frontera looks at some honest and dishonest people from different communities. What happened to the people who told the truth? Were the consequences fair for those who weren't honest?

  • What's the impact of the film's violent scenes? How do they compare to less-realistic violence in other types of movies?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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