Adam Fields (Frey) is a self-loathing Mexican-American.
Engaged to a WASPy gringa, he never sees his family
or speaks the fluent Spanish he commands. To add insult to
injury, he works for the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego,
hunting down illegal Mexican immigrants. But those things
are not enough for Fields. He also moonlights with a band
of vigilante nativist conspiracy theorists, who “help” the
Border Patrol by tracking down these Mexicans themselves,
with predictably brutal results.
Fed up with the Mexican “invasion” of these great United
States and the ineffectiveness of the Federal government in
trying to combat it, the group sets up a sting operation.
Fields will go to Mexico and pose as someone desiring illegal
passage to the U.S., allowing his buddies to track and capture
an entire group of would-be border crossers. When the operation
goes horribly awry, Fields is unable to break character and
return to his normal life. Forced to continue with his disguise,
he soldiers on with the immigrants and their captors to the
next stage in their journey—a meth lab where the Mexicans
are forced to engage in illegal work for people who don’t
even speak their language.
Since Fields’ duplicitous identification with the Mexican
immigrants he despises is the only thing keeping him alive,
the setup of The Gatekeeper sounds like an excellent
opportunity for a provocative character study. Unfortunately,
this prospect never materializes. Instead, The Gatekeeper
is a narrow “message” film, in which Fields comes to realize
that, hey, Mexicans aren’t all bad people, and many of them
are even exploited.
Though the film does hold the viewer’s interest throughout,
stock characters and situations consistently burden it. Fields’
fellow captives at the meth lab include, for example, an impossibly
giving and noble young chemist (Pascual) who takes
Fields under his wing, and an older woman (Betancourt)
who shares with him her hard-earned wisdom. A major subplot
concerns Eva (Agnew), a young mother who has fled with
her son to the U.S. The parallels between her situation and
that of Fields and his mother many years before are far too
obvious, and are unnecessarily underscored by several conversations
between the characters. But by far the most important lack
of nuance in the film surrounds the character of Fields himself.
The narrative takes a quick early stab at explaining why he
hates his Mexican heritage so much, but that one scene really
raises more questions than it answers. Because we are not
given a sophisticated understanding of our main character’s
motivations, his eventual acceptance of the humanity of his
fellow Mexicans is simply implausible. While Frey is clearly
trying to present Fields as repressed and enraged, the viewer’s
lack of familiarity with his motivations often renders him
simply wooden or ignorant.
The Gatekeeper still lacks a distribution deal, and
was directed, written, and produced by lead actor John Carlos
Frey on a shoestring budget. Thus it oozes both “indie
cred” and a “DIY sensibility.” (The lead actress also
supervised the closing credits.) That fact, as well as the
film’s clear concern for the downtrodden, makes The Gatekeeper
a movie one wants to like. Furthermore, Frey’s strength of
vision renders it likely that he will make a solid film, perhaps
one that is not so personal, in the future. But today, The
Gatekeeper is not it.