Video Pick: Coyote
May 22, 2010
Steve is 31, already retired, and bored with life. He made his money quick and easy as a successful Tucson entrepreneur. Now he plays golf, lectures other young wannabe Donald Trumps and acts bemused as his beautiful fiance, Katie, worries over every detail of their impending wedding. This golden boy has it all.
J. is his pal, his literal partner-in-crime. Half-Hispanic, half-Anglo, J. is going nowhere fast, struggling to keep his dead-end day job, stuffing crap in vending machines around town. The two have an unlikely bond, but this friendship runs deep.
Turns out that the son of the maid employed by Katie’s family is an illegal and he is caught in a routine traffic stop and deported to Mexico. Katie frets. J. has the answer: He and Steve will drive south of the border and sneak the friend back to Tucson in their truck. Just like that. As J. explains, “They never question white guys.”
J. is right and, flush with success, Steve suddenly finds his Next Big Thing. He will take his business and marketing skills and put them to use, bringing illegals across the border for a fee, what Steve calls, “a kinder, gentler approach to human smuggling.”
Steve and J. go into business together, much to the dismay and concern of Katie. Just as he would with any other business plan, Steve puts together a brochure and hawks his new venture in the border towns. They will be “coyotes,” but they’re different–they have a heart, complete with fruit baskets and free Spanish-English dictionaries for illegals who sign up for one of Steve’s three easy smuggling plans: Gold. Silver. Or Platinum.
Of course, things are never that easy. Steve and J. and their ragtag compatriots quickly run afoul of the real thing–the other human smugglers want to put them out of business permanently. The Feds want them in jail. Katie just wants to get married and lead the privileged life.
“Coyote” was first released in 2007, but never made the theaters. It became a minor hit on the film festival circuit. I stumbled across it by accident on cable TV one morning, seeing the last 30 minutes. The story immediately grabbed me and I tracked the movie down, ordering the DVD to experience it from the beginning.
Brian Petersen directed and plays Steve. He also co-wrote the gripping screenplay with Brett Spackman, who plays the hapless J. They know how to tell a story, both on the page and on the screen. Things move quickly as action plays out on both sides of the border.
Some mini-reviews I’ve read call “Coyote” a comedy. Not at all. This is a serious story that really helps one understand the incendiary situation in Arizona today. You see Steve and J. trying to outfox the zealous Minutemen standing guard, while also learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the security fence and how the U.S. Border Patrol functions. You get a sense of the dangers the illegals face in trying to cross the desert and how deadly and merciless the real Coyotes can be.
“Coyote” is a low-budget, modest production, but the script is smart and the characters well-etched. It doesn’t matter which side of the immigration issue you’re on–Petersen and Spackman give you a sense of what’s been happening in Arizona through the eyes of people you grow to care for and worry about, especially during the final riveting 30 minutes.
Too bad a movie like “Coyote” didn’t get some theater exposure — it would have been the perfect Palm Theatre experience. But rent it and spend some time with Steve and J. I promise that their journey will stay with you long after the end credits roll.