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The late Ernest Borgnine receives a moving send-off in his final film, The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez. While director/screenwriter Elia Petridis’ indie comedy/drama features no shortage of clichés, it provides the Oscar-winning actor, who died last July, with a well-deserved final opportunity to shine on the big screen.
Borgnine, who shot the film when he was 94, plays Rex Page, a cantankerous former radio DJ/actor still bitter over not having landed the lead role in a spaghetti western, the VHS tape of which he watches over and over to the dismay of his long-suffering wife (June Squibb) and daughter (Dale Dickey, of Winter’s Bone). Only his young granddaughter (Audrey P. Scott), with whom he has a strong bond, shares his obsession.
When an accident lands him in a nursing home, the independent-minded Rex soon finds himself at odds with its villainous, wheelchair-bound owner (Barry Corbin) and even more venal head doctor (Tony Plana), especially when he spies the latter sexually harassing a beautiful nurse (Carla Ortiz).
Rex, influenced by his beloved Westerns, makes derogatory remarks to the Hispanic staff, referring to them as banditos. But he soon sympathizes with their oppressed plight, especially when they come to revere him after learning that he years ago met the real-life figure referred to in the title, the iconic singer who became known as “the Mexican Frank Sinatra.
Although its comedic elements are sometimes amusing, the film’s mawkish interludes and melodramatic plotline quickly become wearisome. That it works at all is a testament to Borgnine’s indelible screen presence and charisma. The still vigorous-looking actor here delivers a wonderfully entertaining and moving turn that won him his final accolade, at the Newport Beach Film Festival. And if you’re able to watch his eerily appropriate final scene without tears in your eyes, you’re made of stern stuff indeed.
Technical credits are solid, particularly Eric Leach’s handsome, widescreen cinematography and the musical score and opening title credits that amusingly evoke Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy.”
Production: Filmatics, Indican Pictures
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Carla Ortiz, Dale Dickey, Tony Plana, Barry Corbin, Arturo Del Puerto, Audrey P. Scott, June Squibb
Director/screenwriter: Elia Petridis
Producers: Darren Brandl, Dave O’Brien
Executive producers: Elia Petridis, Constantine Petridis
Director of photography: Eric Leach
Editor: Terel Gibson
Production designer: Curt Beech
Costume designer: Kait Pickering
Composer: Ray Folguera
Not rated, 99 min.
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