Color, 1982, 108 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Tony Richardson
Starring Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine, Warren Oates, Elpidia Carrillo, Shannon Wilcox, Manuel Viescas
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Koch Media (Germany (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Universal (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

One The Borderof the more high-profile R-rated films from the watershed The BorderHollywood year of 1982, The Border opened in January during a small wave of films that were aimed strictly at audiences way past the teenage demographic (alongside titles like Personal Best, Making Love, and Shoot the Moon). In this case it was an unusually heavy amount of profanity and small-scale but intense violence, avoiding overt bloodshed in favor of an overall brutal and threatening tone. Even with Warren Oates in the cast, it's definitely not the Peckinpah imitation many assumed it would be before it opened.

Recently relocated to El Paso from California, border patrol agent Charlie Smith (Nicholson) and his wife, Marcy (Perrine), end up splitting a duplex with one of his colleagues, Cat (Keitel). Under increasing financial pressure from Marcy's spending habits, Charlie is introduced by Cal to a human smuggling operation overseen by their boss, Red (Oates), with a horde of drivers and other accomplices at their disposal. However, when a detained Mexican woman gives birth to a baby that seems destined for the black market, Charlie is forced to confront the depth of the criminal operation with which he's become entangled.

Jack Nicholson was riding high as one of Hollywood's top leading men when he made this film for director Tony Richardson (who hadn't made a studio film in years), starring in this between two of his The Bordermost significant supporting roles, Reds and his Oscar-winning turn in Terms of Endearment. He's The Borderexcellent here in a meaty, challenging role that allows him to really dive into morally conflicted territory, and the rest of the cast matches him quite well (even if Perrine doesn't have to do much more than a variation on her role in Lenny). It also looks great thanks to evocative scope photography Ric Waite, a regular cinematographer for Walter Hill (whose favorite composer, Ry Cooder, also provides scoring duties here). The subject matter still remains very timely of course given the ongoing debate about border crossing between the U.S. and Mexico and still packs a punch, even if the film ultimately falls into a fairly conventional mixture of shoot outs and sentimentality in the final stretch thanks to a reshot ending after the much more incendiary original finale tested poorly.

Steadily available on home video in a variety of formats over the years, The Border first appeared on Blu-ray in Germany (with a simultaneous DVD edition) in 2017 from Koch Media The Borderfeaturing a recent HD scan supplied by Universal along with the theatrical trailer. More substantial is the 2018 Blu-ray from Indicator, which features the same impressive transfer (good luck finding a print that looks half as good as this) along with a solid LPCM English mono track and optional English SDH subtitles. The BorderThe theatrical trailer is included along with a gallery of production and promotional photos, but the biggest extras are a pair of alternate audio tracks. The first is a fine new audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton, who tackles the impressive confluence of talent in front of and behind the camera here as well as the state of Richardson's career at the time, the social climate around the immigration issue at the time, and plenty more. Also included is The Guardian 1992 tribute to Richardson at the National Film Theatre, recorded soon after his death and the completion of his final film, Blue Sky (which has a notoriously troubled road to a '94 theatrical release and ultimately earned Jessica Lange an Oscar). Sight & Sound editor Philip Dodd heads the discussion (which clocks in just under an hour) featuring director Lindsay Anderson, Kevin Brownlow, Jocelyn Herbert, Vanessa Redgrave, Karel Reisz and Natasha Richardson exploring his influential career including his milestone kitchen sink realism classics and other major works like Tom Jones. It's a fine portrait of the filmmaker, and though it doesn't pertain all that directly to the feature at hand here, it's a very welcome addition. As usual, the limited edition has a top-notch insert booklet featuring new liner notes by Scott Harrison, an archival Richardson piece on The Border, a portrait of Nicholson by screenwriter Walon Green, and a sample of critical writing from its original release.

Reviewed on February 18, 2018.