‘The Boatman’: Film Review

An expert guide for Mexico-U.S. border crossings misunderstands the gravity of his job in Greg Morgan’s allegory ‘The Boatman.’

An allegory about the Mexico/U.S. border whose hero doesn’t realize he’s carrying illegal immigrants to their deaths, Greg Morgan’s The Boatman is upfront with its mythological references but isn’t sufficiently credible in its drama to make them meaningful. Though seemingly sympathetic to those crossing into this country, it displays little understanding of them as human beings, and its moral point is as muddy as the Rio Grande-cum-River Styx its hero crosses daily.

The first mark against the film’s credibility is that, despite the fact that every one of its characters hails from Mexico or points further south, the entire script (excepting six or seven Spanish words most Americans will recognize) is in English. Presumably this is because it’s meant for monolingual viewers who might need lessons in sympathy for Latino immigrants. But it’s cringe-inducing to watch one Mexican woman tell another, “they call him maldito — the cursed one,” as if the latter woman needed the explanation.

The Bottom Line

A moody tale whose pieces don’t add up to much.

RELEASE DATE Dec 16, 2016

The maldito in question is Miguel (Oscar Torre), who, we’re told, never fails to get a customer across the border in a boat he hides in underbrush. In a poorly fleshed out subplot, local drug runners badly want Miguel’s expertise, but he isn’t selling to them. He’d rather plant himself on a barstool and drink away the troubling things he sees in his work — like the many people he comes across who are near death, most of whom seem to have one last thing to say before dying.

One of these casualties, Elena (Noemi Dunbar), not only doesn’t die: She turns out to have come to the border to find Miguel, claiming he’s her father. She says he just can’t remember being married to her mother, and insists he should take her along on a river crossing. The conflict between the two is meant to nudge Miguel into a realization of his role here: This cabrón is Charon, and those silver coins he keeps finding aren’t a coincidence. But Morgan and Duke Addleman’s script doesn’t put the pieces together very well, and viewers are left with a borderland fable full of portentous mood and little payoff.

Distributor: Indie Rights
Production company: Film Punk Films
Cast: Oscar Torre, Noemi Dunbar, Yvonne Delarosa, Carlos Montilla, Rogelio T. Ramos
Director-editor: Greg Morgan
Screenwriters: Greg Morgan, Duke Addleman
Producers: Jeanne Flynn-Morgan, Greg Morgan
Executive producer: Oscar Torre
Director of photography: Nick Matthews
Production designer: Sarah Militello
Costume designer: Erin Citti
Composer: Claudiu Lazarciuc
Casting directors: Robin DeMartino, Geno Havens, Fanny Veliz

Not rated, 101 minutes