The Laws of the Border, or Outlaws as it is titled on Netflix, is a perfect example of a B movie that has enough talent behind it to keep people engaged during its entire running time. Coming of age stories come in all shapes and forms. These types of stories often deal with the search for identity and how your experiences manage to transform you into a fully-fleshed human being.
Coming of age stories can be adventurous, romantic, funny, and also sad. Outlaw decides to go for every single one of these ingredients, and the result is a pastiche of elements that might feel dissonant at points. However, thanks to solid production values, the dissonance ends up creating a sense of chaos that sometimes can only come from real life. This movie is engaging and fun, even if not many would like to be in the situation the movie presents.
The Laws of the Border is directed by Daniel Monzón, responsible for the fantastic Cell 211, and it is based on the book of the same name, written by Javier Cercas. The film stars Marcos Ruiz, Begoña Vargas y Chechu Salgado, and tells the story of Nacho, a 17-year-old young man who is having problems being constantly bullied. One day, he meets Zarco and Tere, two criminals who befriend him and take him under their wing. Nacho then begins taking part in the gang’s crimes, as well as falling in love with the beautiful Tere.
The Laws of the Border doesn’t waste time putting the audience through long-winded intros or poetic landscaping. The movie is very focused on wanting to entertain its audiences, and thanks to the breakneck pacing, the movie is never boring. Although the running time goes beyond two hours, the movie never feels long.
Monzón’s direction isn’t showy at all, but actually, it is very practical and to the point. This might hurt the movie when it comes to being a striking visual feast, but it does the job. The true hero of the piece is Balter Gallart. The production designer and his team of professionals transport us to the Spain of 1970, and the result is quite realistic and nostalgic, even if most of the audience have never set foot in Spain.
The rest of the movie remains solid. There are some very noticeable green screens here and there, but the locations remain mostly natural, and the atmosphere they create during the whole film is quite nice.
The characters are the main thing about this movie, and it is very clear from the get go because the plot is quite predictable, especially if you have seen other coming of age movies before. So, you will not find great twists or amazing revelations in this story. Thankfully, the actors are good enough to elevate the material and transform what could be clichéd characters into something more interesting.
Ruiz is the protagonist of the film, and he begins exactly as you expected, all shy and quiet. As the film moves along, his character changes considerably, and Ruiz makes it in such a way that every decision that Nacho makes feels real and believable, even if some of those decisions are quite dumb.
Begoña Vargas is the revelation of the film. The young actress isn’t only a pretty face, but she also carries a lot of attitude with her, and this helps sell Tere as a 70s version of Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde. The actress steals almost every scene she’s in. Salgado also does a great job; his character, Zarco, is a crooked, charming bastard. From the beginning of the film, we know he is trouble, and yet, he never goes into the unsympathetic territory, and at times, he might even look like a sort of Robin Hood figure. His rough voice helps sell the fact that his character has been toughened by the streets since his childhood.
The film is also quite romantic. There are a couple of scenes that are just pure cheese, as we see a young man falling for a girl that is way out of his league. There are also some more creepy undertones to the whole romantic factor of the film, but the main couple remains cute from beginning to end.
The movie also tries to work out some social commentary here and there, especially when it comes to the police force as a corrupt entity that keeps things in check for the government. But this subject is only hinted at, and the movie strays from it very quickly.
The Laws of the Border might not be a unique story and might not be a unique film period. But the movie follows a formula that remains successful and will mean an entertaining time for most of the audience that decides to give it a watch.