Review: Hypnotic border thriller ‘The Boatman’ depicts immigration on human scale

The river from the movie "The Boatman."
(Indie Rights)

“The Boatman” is an absorbing, intriguingly told dramatic thriller set on the U.S.-Mexico border that seems especially well-timed given the fractious state of America’s immigration debate. Yet this haunting, often dreamlike film, confidently directed by Greg Morgan from a script by Morgan and Duke Addelman, also exists in a world of its very own making, lending it a compellingly elusive sense of time and place.

Above all, however, this is an affecting character study of Miguel (Oscar Torre), a mysterious “coyoté” with a 100% success rate smuggling immigrants across the Rio Grande River into Texas. Miguel, nicknamed “El Maldito” (The Cursed One), is both an angel and an antihero, a saint and a sinner, on a collision course with fate.

Meanwhile, Elena (Noemi Dunbar), a young car crash survivor, shows up claiming to be Miguel’s daughter. Although he staunchly denies this possibility, Elena sticks around and is soon assisting Miguel and a feisty bar owner (Yvonne Delarosa, excellent) on his payroll. But can Miguel and Elena dodge dubious drug dealers and encroaching members of a Juárez gang who want in on El Maldito’s territory?

Despite an atmosphere of simmering violence and criminal wrongdoing, “Boatman” is more art film than action film; deliberately paced, skillfully shot, emotionally challenging. It’s all capped by Torre’s powerful, darkly charismatic presence as the single-minded Miguel. Take this ride.



‘The Boatman’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes


Playing: Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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