Greencard Warriors: Film Review
Manny Perez, Angel Amaral, Vivica A. Fox, McKinley Freeman, Richard Cabral, Noel Gugliemi, Paige Hurd, Christianne Christensen, Will Green
Miriam Kruishoop's gritty drama concerns an undocumented immigrant family torn apart when their eldest son enlists to serve in Iraq.
During the opening credits of Greencard Warriors, we're informed that in 2007 some 20,500 undocumented soldiers were serving in the U.S. military. That startling statistic has informed and inspired Miriam Kruishoop's feature about an immigrant family whose lives are drastically altered when their eldest son enlists to serve in Iraq. Although marred by some overly melodramatic plot elements in its final reels, the film marks an impressive showcase for its Netherlands-born writer-director.
Set in the barrios of Los Angeles, the film centers on 14-year-old Angel (Angel Amaral), whose close-knit undocumented immigrant family includes father Jesus (Manny Perez), mother Rosie (Christianne Christensen) and older brother Beto (Mario Ardilla Jr.). Beto has fallen in with a local gang, but he's given his fellow members strict instructions to leave his kid brother alone. And Angel is content to engage in such normal teen activities as soccer and his burgeoning romance with a slightly older African-American girl, Jazmine (Paige Hurd).
One day, a pair of army recruiters shows up at the boys' school, virtually threatening to deport Beto and his family unless he signs up. They later show up at his house, promising that the entire family would be given legal status if Beto enlists. A persuaded Jesus encourages his son to do so, with predictably fateful results.
Left alone without his brother for protection, Angel finds himself increasingly harassed by the gang over his relationship with his new girlfriend. Equally disapproving are Jazmine's mother (Vivica A. Fox) and police officer father (McKinley Freeman), who do everything they can to keep the young lovers apart.
After Beto is killed in the war, his anguished, guilt-ridden father vents his anger on the recruitment officers who barely remember him. Things take an even darker turn when he accidentally kills a policeman in a late-night encounter that goes awry, with his only recourse being to flee the country.
The director-screenwriter displays a fine grasp of the milieu, providing credible characters and situations that only late in the film degenerate into unconvincing schematic elements. And she's elicited excellent performances from the ensemble, especially from young Amaral, who's convincingly naturalistic and sympathetic as the confused teen who winds up joining the gang and shaving his head to fit in, and Perez, powerfully moving as the father who tears his family apart in his well-meaning effort to give them a brighter future.
Featuring fine production values despite its obvious budgetary limitations, Greencard Warriors is an engrossing tale whose relevance sadly remains all too timely.
Opens March 28 (New World Cinemas)
Production: Sirenic Films & Media
Cast: Manny Perez, Angel Amaral, Vivica A. Fox, McKinley Freeman, Richard Cabral, Noel Gugliemi, Paige Hurd, Christianne Christensen, Will Green
Director/screenwriter: Miriam Kruishoop
Producers: Julian Cautherley, Bronwyn Cornelius, Miriam Krishoop
Executive producers: Cliff Curtis, Bertrand Lipworth
Director of photography: Helle Jensen
Editors: Amy Cargill, Zachary Kashkett
Production designer: Angela Stauffer
Costume designer: Kim H. Ngo
Composers: James Chapple, Graeme Cornies, David Brian Kelly, Brian L. Pickett
Rated PG-13, 90 min.