Political Film Society - Newsletter #171 - June 15, 2003

June 15, 2003


, directed by James Mangold, begins with a confusing fastforward prologue, consisting of newspaper clippings, including photos, about a boy who was abandoned by parents at a motel and then jumps to a second scene, where a psychiatrist (played by Alfred Molina) argues that Malcolm Rivers (played by Pruitt Taylor Vince), a man about to be executed for murder, should be spared because of some sort of mental illness. Then the story begins on a stormy night, with George York (played by John C. McGinley) driving his wife Alice (played by Leila Kenzie) and young son Timmy (played by Bret Loehr) down a Nevada highway when the car develops a flat tire. The wife stands on the road while the husband changes the tire, and soon another car comes along. The second car, driven by Ed (played by John Cusack), is transporting film star Caroline Suzanne (played by Rebecca De Morney). While Ed momentarily looks away from the road to talk to her, his car hits the wife. Cellphones do not work, and the road is washed out, so Ed takes responsibility and drives to the nearest motel, hoping that the injured woman will regain consciousness. The five people check into a motel, which is managed by Larry (played by John Hawkes), who reports that motel phones do not work due to the storm. A third car comes along, with a police officer, Rhodes (played by Ray Liotta), and a legcuffed prisoner, Robert Maine (played by Jack Busey); the police officer insists on a room for the night. A prostitute, Paris (played by Amanda Peet), also decides to stay at the motel for the night, as the thunderstorm continues to impede normal travel. The final guests are a newlywed couple, Ginny and Lou (played by Clea Du Vall and William Lee Scott). One by one, the ten motel guests die under unusual circumstances, reminiscent of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (1946). One mystery is the obvious whodunit question; a second mystery is what the news clippings, the motel deaths, and a man on death row have to do with one another. An intelligent filmviewer will tie up loose ends while walking out of the movie, thanks in part to the movie title, but some filmviewers may not make the connections. At the same time, Identity's subtext is opposition to the death penalty, this time because some killers are mentally ill, should not be executed, and can be helped back to sanity with proper psychiatric care. MH

Based on a true story, No Turning Back (Sin Returno) is about a Honduran father and daughter in Southern California. On October 27, 1998, Professor Pablo Fernandez (played by Jesús Nebot) returned from teaching English at a university in Honduras, only to find that Hurricane Mitch destroyed his home, taking the life of his pregnant wife.

Promising to his remaining daughter Cristina (played by Chelsea Rendon) that he would never leave her alone, they enter the United States illegally from México in January 1999 hoping for a better life. Without proper documentation, his only employment is to pick tomatoes for a farmer in California, while Cristina excels at an elementary school where she makes plenty of friends due to her charming personality. On September 9, 1999, he borrows his employer's truck to transport his six-year-old daughter to a birthday party, drives down a residential street in Oceanside, swerves to avoid hitting a dog that suddenly emerges in the path of the truck, and instead hits a five-year-old girl, who soon dies. Rather than stopping, Pablo speeds on to avoid being arrested by police and then separated from his daughter; he tells her that they are embarking on a "vacation." While attempting to escape the law, he runs into sassy, anti-establishment Soid (played by Lindsay Price), an Asian American journalist who provides transportation for them in exchange for a videotaped version of their story. (Occasional footage from a videocamera testifies that her cinematographic skills are sorely lacking, however.) The film also focuses on the family of the deceased daughter--a husband (played by Paul Ganus) who is a physician at a local hospital, a wife (played by Susan Haskell) who deeply mourns the loss of their daughter, and their son. Clearly, Mrs. Knight feels guilty because she did not prevent her daughter from riding a tricycle into the street without first checking traffic. Soon, the police assign the hit-and-run case to cynical African American Detective Bryant (played by Vernée Watson-Johnson) and her novice Hispanic partner Charlie (played by Joe Estevez). Although Soid urges Pablo to escape to México to avoid being arrested or extradited, he shows her the scar that he received while attempting to cross the border in January; Cristina also insists that they should never return to México, preferring to vacation in the Bahamas. Since the Bahamas is out of the question, Pablo decides to head for Canada, and Soid agrees. However, dangers impede the northern escape route. Since Pablo has no safe place to stay, he has to sleep in uncomfortable places. Lacking money, Cristina begs on the beach, and Pablo robs a convenience story, putting a couple of hundred dollars in his pocket. At the suggestion of Soid, he applies for a maintenance job on a cruise ship, and she arranges at her own expense for him to have fake papers. While jobhunting, Pablo parks Cristina at a church-operated day care center, where she fractures an ankle. The following day, still in pain, Pablo takes her to a hospital. By some coincidence, her emergency room physician is Dr. Knight, and the police are soon hot on his trail. After a seven-day manhunt, they handcuff Pablo, who is no longer interested in living if he cannot keep his promise to stay with his daughter. The inevitable tragic end for Pablo, however, is mitigated at the end of the film by redemption for Cristina and the Knights, though Soid's role in harboring a fugitive is never brought to justice. Codirected by Julia Monejo and Jesús Nebot, No Turning Back shows what happens when a father is willing to sacrifice everything to provide a better life for his daughter, providing an insight into a motivation for illegal aliens to enter the United States that is seldom exposed in the popular media. As the tagline says, "Headlines never tell the whole story." MH