Film Review: ‘Greencard Warriors’

'Greencard Warriors' Review: A Leaden Inner-City

The horrors faced by Mexican illegals on the L.A. mean streets get a familiar indexing in this well-meaning but familiar ghetto melodrama.

Uncle Sam wants you, but not quite enough to give you your citizenship. At least that’s the message imparted by “Greencard Warriors,” a well-meaning but leaden and predictable inner-city drama about the hardscrabble lives of illegal immigrants trying to survive the violent streets of Central Los Angeles. We’ve been here before — and better — in films by Gregory Nava (“Mi familia”), Edward James Olmos (“American Me”) and Chris Weitz (“A Better Life”), which offered finely detailed atmosphere and character work where Dutch writer-director Miriam Kruishoop offers mostly tiresome ghetto cliches. After playing the fest circuit last year under the title “Crosstown,” the pic rolls out in select AMC theaters this weekend via distrib New World Cinemas.

For her English-language directing debut, Kruishoop (“Vive Elle,” “Under the Palms”) has chosen the kind of social melodrama that seeks to open the eyes of privileged audiences to some alarming plight happening right under their bourgeois noses. But her approach is so clobbering that it calls to mind those 1980s TV commercials that warned of the dangers of drug use by showing a fetus smoking a cigarette or a human brain transformed into scrambled egg batter. In “Greencard Warriors,” Kruishoop puts an entire family into that sizzling skillet: hard-working day laborer Jesus (Manny Perez), his wife Rosie (Christianne Christensen) and their three children. Having made the arduous trek north from their native El Salvador, they now wonder what it was all worth, as they struggle to make ends meet and to keep their two teenage sons away from the gang life that rules the neighborhood streets.

For their eldest, Beto (Mario Ardila Jr.), one way out seems to be the Army, especially after a couple of hard-sell recruiters come calling with the promise of a better life not just for Beto, but also for his entire family. Enlist, they say, and a shiny new green card will be waiting for you, after which your relatives can apply for papers, too. It all sounds too good to be true, and it turns out to be just that: Guilted by Jesus into signing up, Beto almost as quickly arrives back home in a box, with no green card anywhere in sight. Per some statistics that flash onscreen at the start, as of 2007 more than 20,000 soldiers in the U.S. Army were seeking citizenship, though “Greencard Warriors” never bothers to tell us how many — if any — of them actually succeed in this quest.

Instead, the movie shifts into “West Side Story” mode to focus on 14-year-old Angel (Angel Amaral), who doesn’t share his late brother’s affection for the thug life, but who does take quite a liking to the African-American neighbor girl Jazmine (Paige Hurd) — a mixing of races that, in this part of town, is akin to snitching or wearing the wrong colors. Predictably, nobody wants Angel and Jazmine to be together — not Jazmine’s mom (Vivica A. Fox) and dad (McKinley Freeman), and certainly not the menacing homies who keep trying to lure Angel into their gang.

We know that none of this is going to end well for anyone. The characters certainly can’t put their trust in the police, who are depicted here in the same brutalizing, insensitive manner as many of the films about inner-city Los Angeles that emerged in the wake of the Rodney King riots. The movie has the steady drone of tragic inevitability, but this is tragedy in the generic rather than the specific. For all its sincere intentions, Kruishoop’s script feels cobbled together from newspaper headlines and bits of other movies rather than real, lived experience.

The actors do what they can with the material, especially Perez (“Wahington Heights”), Amaral and the real ex-gang member Richard Cabral, who has the authentic street menace of the young Danny Trejo. In the movie’s best scene, a distraught Jesus confronts Beto’s Army recruiters about his dead son, only to find that they barely remember who he even is. There’s real pain, anguish and defeat in that moment, and a kind of real, messy human drama that too infrequently breaks through this movie’s earnest, activist surface.

Film Review: 'Greencard Warriors'

Reviewed at Crosby Street Hotel screening room, New York, March 24, 2014. (In 2013 Santa Barbara Film Festival, Los Angeles Latino Film Festival.) Running time: 92 MIN.

Production

A New World Cinemas release of a Siren Studios presentation. Produced by Miriam Kruishoop, Bronwyn Cornelius, Julian Cautherly. Executive producers, Bertrand Lipworth, Cliff Curtis, Jan Peters, Marco Pieters, Kyle Jackson. Co-producers, Graham Bourne, Victor Moyers, Nicholas Jayanty, Rene Goossens, Annemiek van Gorp.

Crew

Directed, written by Miriam Kruishoop. Camera (color, HD), Helle Jensen; editor, Zachery Kashkett; music, Voodoo Highway, Toni M. Mir; music supervisor, Rebekah Touma; production designer, Angela Satuffer; sound, Ryan Jennings; sound supervisor, Christopher Sheldon; sound designers, Ryan McBride, David Brian Kelly, Ryan Jennings, Greg Arnold, Kyle Mangels; re-recording mixers, Andrew Liu, Tom Marks, Brian Pickett; visual effects, John Attard, Jeff Brue; stunt coordinator, Van Vander Pluym; associate producers, Stewart Till, Rieks Hadders, Helle Jensen, Evert-Jan Wamsteker; casting, Emily Schweber.

With

Manny Perez, Angel Amaral, Paige Hurd, Christianne Christensen, Vivica A. Fox, McKinley Freeman, Adrian Bellani, Noel Gugliemi, Richard Cabral, Mario Ardila Jr., Christopher Kriesa, Will Green, Cesar Garcia, Christian Gutierrez, Ivan Alvarado, David Toledo, Steelo Vasquez, Johnny Yang , Giovanni Lopes, Roberto Hamilton, Anthony Vitale, Marvin Elkins, Tohoru Masamune, Michael Gonzalez, Louisa Abernathy, Argenis Pirela, Link Ruiz, Christelle Christensen. (English, Spanish dialogue)

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  1. annie says:

    I doubt that over 20,000 illegal immigrants are (now) serving in the US army.

    I base my doubt on official information:
    Before you visit your local recruiter, be sure you meet the minimum qualifications for serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Some qualifications are required by all five services:
    – You must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien (a Green Card holder).
    – You must be at least 17 years old (17-year old applicants require parental consent).
    – You must (with very few exceptions) have a high school diploma.
    – You must pass a physical medical exam.

    In 2014 a program was started that allows some non-resident aliens and illegal immigrants to enlist if they have special skills, e.g. in the medical field, or are fluent in middle-Eastern, Asian, etc. languages. So far about 2000 men/women have taken this opportunity. (Non-resident aliens are legal immigrants bytheway.)
    In 2015 a few hundred so-called Dreamers (DACA’s) were allowed to enlist.
    Ms. Kruishoop probably saw billboards advertising these programs.

    I would be interested to know where the director and the producer got their facts.

  2. Leonore says:

    Love this movie! Made me cry!!!

  3. Ronan says:

    I for one loved this film.

  4. Ms. M says:

    Movie sucked!

  5. The characters are actually Salvadoran, not Mexican.

    Other than that, you’re review is right on the money – the film isn’t that good

  6. Victor says:

    green card warriors is an amazing film and true to our lives.
    I think mr foundas is really an ass…he either writes his criticisms based over the quality of champagne he is offered at a screening or he falls asleep and wakes up and writes as the small bitter man he is in true life….if only he could understand our lives in the ghetto compared to his gucci shoed ,overpaid editorial position…..he has reduced variety to an unreliable editorial standard…variety has been in existence for so long and so respected,it cannot come one moment too soon before this man is removed from his big cigar smoking office.
    get your fat arse and small balls down to east la and see how cliched and unrealistic is the script..you can come and stay at my place..bring your silk pyjamas!!

  7. Mr B says:

    You sound like an 80s tv commercial! Get your facts straight. We need more Latino stories like these to be told. But it’s clearly because of people like Mr Foundas that they don’t. (or am I giving him too much credit…???) Very sad to see there is still so much ignorance in this country. I applaud this film and the makers. It deserves a large audience. There is no movie out there like it. With all due respect to Chavez this film hits the right notes both politically and emotionally. I was crying during Manny Perez’s speech. The guy is incredible in this film. Two thumbs up!

  8. Lisa says:

    Can’t belief this is the critique. This film was dope. Kudos. Saw it today. Taking my kids to see it tomorrow.

  9. lizz says:

    Chief editor. Maybe you have been there, but we are still here. This movie hits close to home.

  10. Dominic says:

    Watched it last night. Killed me!!!! It’s so true. Deep. Respect > You’re review is ignorant and arrogant

  11. Vanessa says:

    What world do you live in? Have you ever been to the hood? The fact that this story was told in such an authentic way by a female writer director should be celebrated by your industry magazine. Shame on you!

  12. Big T says:

    Yo! Variety get your facts right. Dope intense movie. Great cast and performances. This shit is real man!

  13. Katty says:

    Did you watch it?! It was Salvadorian Scott!! Not all latino films are about Mexicans!! Ugh!!!!! The film was great…u could see the budgetary issues but that film was really good. And a woman did it! Applaud that…instead of criticizing moronic stuff you don’t know nothing about. Cliche! You’re cliche!!!

  14. Theo says:

    What a shame Mr Foundas didn’t get his facts right. He clearly has never been to East LA. His review is not only an insult to the makers but to the Latin community. Funny Mr. Foundas’ review is the only bad review this film has received. Go figure….

  15. Raymond says:

    The family is Salvadorian, not Mexican. If you lived the everyday struggles of East LA you would not find any of what’s depicted cliched. But of course, you’re that same privileged audience you speak about. I saw it last night and cried and felt for what I have lived. Everything hit home. I thought this film is excellent. The main guy (the father) instantly became my favorite actor. He killed me with his speech after his son died. A+ from someone who lived that hood depicted.

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