Film Review: The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)
Drawn out, a bit cheesy, and home to a wide range of stereotypes expected from an early 1980s movie, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez is a historical film based on a Mexican man living in Texas, who is on a getaway from the law after he is accused of stealing a horse in Karnes County in 1901. Based on a true story, Gregorio and his brother Romaldo were standing on their front lawn when they were approached by two lawmen from the area who wanted to speak with Gregorio about a horse they had reason to believe he stole, through word of mouth. As a sheriff attempted to arrest Gregorio, he is shot as Gregorio’s worst fear was imprisonment for himself or his brother. Greogrio is then on a run from lawmen in order to avoid his trial and hide out for a while.
Given the movie was released in the 1982 with a much lower budget than other classics at the time, along with an inexperienced director, Robert M. Young, who only worked with documentaries, it’s not surprising the movie wasn’t a hit thriller. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez attempted to convey drama, but in addition to the need for improvement in acting, cinematography, and script, it also went beyond those issues with stereotypes. Not only were there exaggerated stereotypes of every Caucasian man in the movie as rednecks, but worse was an improper portrayal of Latino Americans. Since the setting was Texas at the turn of the century in 1901, it would make sense for the amateur director to feel he could submerge in a world of presumptions of culture based on the ideology of whites vs. minorities. It didn’t seem to work out very well though, because the senseless behavior from different ethnic groups downsized the believability of every character.
As far as White-Caucasian males portrayed as rednecks in the movie, it applied to all secondary lawmen who fit the description of lifeless and stubborn. The way they dressed, walked, and talked came off as robotic and cliché. These similarities shared between three characters who were critical to the story messed with the chemistry of the acting. The greatest example of bad acting was the scene where sheriff Glover questioned an old Mexican man about Gregorio’s whereabouts; it was stiff and unamusing. The idea of his character was to fit the redneck stereotype of wild and over the edge, but it still wasn’t very entertaining. Reporter Blakely, who approached Choate toward the beginning of the movie fit another stereotype used; the fancy pressman. Articulated speech, a top hat, and politeness made him uncomfortable to watch alongside the same level of danger the lawmen were a part of. And not uncomfortable in a good way, but uncomfortable in a “when does this scene end” way.
Poorly acted out stereotypes were a subtracting factor from the movie. Although it seemed like all Caucasian and Latino men were the same character at the core, Boone Choate (Tom Bower) wasn’t as stereotypical as the rest. Boone was Sheriff Morris’ interpreter, who in the beginning appeared to misinterpret Gregorio’s response to their questioning as a form of resisting arrest. Boone was more complex, considering for about half the movie the viewer is kept in sub-par suspense mainly because of him. Those watching the movie aren’t supposed to know whether Boone deliberately constituted foul play in the beginning with the misinterpretation incident. Boone’s intentions weren’t clear, and Tom Bower (Boone) killed it (in a good way). Tom’s character was believable in a way others weren’t. Overall, it may not be worth your time if you aren’t a film historian. It may have been mediocre, but it was a respectably different movie of its time, and for that it should be appreciated.
By: John McGinley