SXSW Film review: ‘Western’ explores border troubles

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Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, in "Western."
Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, in "Western."

Mayor Chad Foster of Eagle Pass, in “Western.”

Directors Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV take a low-key, slow, but illuminating approach to life on the Texas-Mexico border in the gorgeously photographed documentary “Western.”

It focuses on the towns of Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, Mexico, and how the two cities have had good relations for decades, only to see big trouble arise with the cartel drug wars.

Chad Foster is the mayor of Eagle Pass, and he considers his region to be a paradise, at least at the beginning of the film. He champions economic development, speaks fluent Spanish and has what everyone considers to be stellar relations with his Mexican neighbors.

His story is paired with that of Martin Wall, a cattle broker who regularly goes into Mexico and brings cattle back to the States for sale. He lives in a picturesque home, with an even more picturesque daughter, who keeps watch on her father as he wrangles cattle.

But both Foster and Wall watch in dismay as news reports indicate that cartel violence is spreading to Piedras Negras, and before long, that violence increases tensions and has a devastating effect on the two towns. Wall’s business comes crashing down as the federal government imposes an indefinite border closure. And he begins to wonder how he’ll provide for his family.

The directors make “Western” more of a musing look at life on the border than a screed on the drug wars. And it has more than a bit of mythic overtones, with panoramic shots of the Rio Grande, festivals and various celebrations.

It’s disheartening to see what has become of the area, of course, and the sadness is unmistakable. But “Western” offers hope that relationships beyond the border will endure.

The Ross brothers are known for their thoughtful approaches to documentary-making. The previous features include “45365” and “Tchoupitoulas.”


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