Although presented as a fictional drama, The Gatekeeper serves as a factual expose about the plight of illegal immigrants who pass through Mexico into the United States. Their journey is an all-too-common tale fuelled by the hope and promise of a better future that the U.S. offers all the poor, huddled masses from around the world. Regrettably, their American dreams quickly turn to nightmares as many travelers end up as indentured servants, suffering severe brutality with limited means of escape.
John Carlos Frey’s desire to tell this story is very noble. He wants to right a wrong that has been ignored for far too long, but unfortunately, his high-minded intentions are inversely proportional to his movie-making abilities. In essence The Gatekeeper is a student film with a big budget, a bad student film. The writing is very weak. The plot points make no sense and the characters are one-dimensional caricatures that have no believable motivation for their actions. It makes the movies on the Lifetime channel look like a John Steinbeck novel.
I am uncomfortable with the hatchet job I need to perform to put into context how truly awful this film is so I ask that you stop reading after this paragraph. The Gatekeeper generously donated a portion of the box office proceeds to the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride. Rather than waste your time watching the film, you can accomplish more by visiting the website. If you know John Carlos, do not mention anything to him about this review other than I commend the attention he’s bringing to the immigration problem.
Mexicans, I’m assuming, are sneaking across the border under the surveillance of off-duty U.S. Border Patrol Agent, Adam Fields, who is played by the multi-hyphenate John Carlos Frey. Adam is also involved with a right wing fringe group that wants to keep America from having only “tortillas and beans for dinner.” Some of Adam’s “friends” leap out and startle the Mexicans, taunting them to the point where one Mexican whips out a pistol and shoots someone in the arm. Adam then blasts the shooter in the leg, while the other Mexicans scatter. They leave the wounded Mexican behind after giving him a few kicks.
Adam is brought up in front of his superior for missing one round in his gun. A similar incident happened a couple of weeks ago and his only answer for the missing bullet is complete denial. He comes off like an idiot and is put on suspension. Considering this has happened recently and he knows his weapon gets inspected why wouldn’t he keep extra shells? Does he want to get caught?
Adam gets an urgent call and shows up in a poor neighborhood to attend the bedside of a sick and delusional older woman. This scene provides some over-the-top melodrama that reveals Adam is a self-hating, half-Mexican. Part of this hatred stems from the fact that his mother was a prostitute. It’s utterly confusing as to which parent is Mexican. At first I thought it was the mother because of the setting and people around her, but then Adam talks about the john who potentially fathered him. Luckily, my confusion quickly subsided as I watched in disbelief as Adam tore apart his mother’s kitchen while ranting about all the Sweet n’ Low she stole from restaurants and the horrible garage sale dishes his mother kept. He storms out of the house, destroying a Lady of Guadalupe statue.
Adam has a fiancée and they have strange scenes together. She catches him masturbating in the shower one morning and later, after storming out of his mother’s home, there’s a quick and startling cut to him having rough, angry sex with his fiancée. She complains to him to stop. Her character doesn’t accomplish anything or even contribute much to the plot, so I’m not sure why she’s in the film.
In an effort to step up their campaign against illegal immigrants the right wing group decides to send Adam to Mexico, wired with a tiny video camera and a GPS tracking device, so he can document how the illegals gain entry into the country. Why this footage would be helpful no one explains. Nor does anyone notice how easy Adam looks the part with just some hair dye.
Once in Tijuana, Adam, who speaks fluent Spanish, takes on the name Juan and pays to get brought into America. He is told it is a partial payment and will work off the rest once in America. He waits in a room with a group of people who will make the journey with him. The men who are their guides, known as coyotes, hand out mysterious plastic bottles that they are told everyone will need when they get to America. The crossing goes surprisingly easily, but then the coyotes get to the exact farm that Adam’s friends are waiting at. Because this is such a lucrative yet dangerous business, the coyotes are armed with semi-automatic weapons and slaughter all of Adam’s buddies except one who is hiding. With no way out, Adam gets into the truck headed for the work farm.
The driver of the truck, Peter, hates Mexicans so he drives like a maniac, jerking the car side to side to scare the people jammed in the back. His antics unintentionally reveal what the mystery bottles contain: acid. We discover this because in the commotion some of the contents spills out and starts to burn a man’s shirt and chest. The fumes are horrible and everyone bangs on the truck, getting Peter to stop. He drags the burning man out, shoots him and leaves him behind. Why the immigrants needed to bring bottles of acid from Mexico is never explained. It’s a good thing no one got thirsty along the way. There wasn’t even a warning to be careful.
Everyone is brought to the farm where they are going to sleep at in little sheds. Adam is picked to learn how to make methamphetamine. This scene is filled with enough foreshadowing to make an audience member feel like Nostradamus. Jose shows Adam the ropes and Adam picks it up pretty quick. He is shown that the building is rigged to explode in case something goes wrong, but Jose disconnects the wires whenever he’s inside. Jose found a secret room under the building where he relaxes and somehow has set it up so the guard can ring the room whenever someone is coming. We also learn that if the heat is set too high the room will explode.
Eva, who has crossed the border with her young son, has to work in the house, so you know the inevitable rape scene by Vance, the boss, is coming. Unfortunately, the tragedy of the scene is completely lost when it plays out because it is shot in such an odd manner. With my apologies to Joel Brooks, the last thing I saw him in was playing a homosexual in Six Feet Under and I couldn’t get that out of my mind. Plus, he doesn’t come across as menacing and when he finally makes his move, he wrestles Eva to the ground and then starts to pump her. He never made any movement to take off her clothes or take out his unit, so I thought maybe I had missed something. The filmmaking decisions in this sequence were so bad I had trouble believing a rape had taken place.
Adam tries to escape the farm but trips silent alarms so he’s easy to track and find. He’s brought back to the camp and is made an example out of by receiving a gunshot to the leg and everyone loses their pay for the week. The lady that runs the farm nurses Adam back to health. She gives him a bowl of medicine that’s made from marijuana. She warns him not to say anything, but why anyone who works at a meth lab would care about pot is beyond me. And what is pot going to do to help a gunshot wound? Is it supposed to make you so mellow that you don’t go into shock?
The next day Peter comes to pick up the work crew and he wonders where Juan is. He finds him lying down due to the shooting and pokes his wound with a stick just to remind us how bad he is. Adam gets up and goes to the lab. Once it has been announced that Adam is proficient in the making of meth, Jose begins to spit up blood and he quickly dies. They bury him in the field and place his breathing mask next to his grave, which he didn’t use much, hence his bleeding lungs. They should have placed the picture of his son there but that was left behind in the lab.
About five days have gone by and Adam’s fiancée is wondering where he is. She goes to the Border Patrol and they have no idea of his whereabouts. They eventually find the bodies on the farm and trace it back to the right wing leader. Somehow this leads them to the same place in Tijuana where Adam found passage. Some Mexican police leave a picture of Adam and it gets faxed to Vance’s farm. Eva gets the fax and confronts Adam. For some odd reason Adam continues to talk with an accent after his cover is blown. I’m sure they couldn’t afford subtitles and wanted to convey that they were speaking Spanish since Eva didn’t know English, but it was still odd that nothing changed in his voice.
Vance discovers the truth about Adam when the people from Tijuana call to see if their fax went through. They beat the crap out of Eva and dump her in the meth lab. Adam finds her but before they can leave, he sees the bad guys pull up. He quickly disconnects the wires just as the bad guys try and detonate the building. Adam sets a pot of drugs boiling, and then sneaks into the secret room with Eva as the bad guys walk in and they get blown up.
This film made me laugh at the wrong times. It was hard to watch because almost every scene had one element or more that made no sense whatsoever and removed me from watching the film. One major problem I had was that I didn’t understand why the Mexicans who were guarding the meth lab didn’t turn on the bad guys. There was only the two, Peter and Vance, so the Mexicans outnumbered them. They were willing to signal Jose when the boss was coming so they were obviously sympathetic to their hermanos. It would have been so easy. I could go on, but I don’t think a review should have more thought put into it than a film’s script.
The one, and only, positive for the film is that the producers are obviously very talented to have raised all the money they needed for the project beforehand. If they raised any money by showing scenes from the film, then these guys could sell ice to Eskimos. Plus, they got Bruce Springsteen to donate the song “Sinola Cowboys” to The Gatekeeper in perpetuity. The Boss wouldn’t let his music be used in The Mask, the movie about the kid with the giant head starring Eric Stoltz, but somehow this film met with his approval?! Keep an eye out for Joseph Hogan and Connie Dolph. They obviously know people and are going places.