It might not be saying much, really, but Linewatch, an especially attractively shot and generally well made Southwestern border drama, could be Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s best leading role since at least Men of Honor and possibly even Boyz N the Hood — certainly better than the claptrap like Dirty and Hero Wanted that’s cluttered up his recent filmography. It’s been a strange, prolonged post-Oscar debasement for Gooding, Jr., and there’s a melancholic depression that’s blanketed many of his performances in the last half dozen years, all but eradicating memories of his ebullient turn in 1996’s Jerry Maguire. This film, while still finding Gooding, Jr. in more or less down-shifted mode, has enough character shading and other things going for it to strike a chord for patient filmgoers willing to give him another chance. It may ultimately not be the type of showy fare to lift him up out of Actor Jail, but it does work well for what it is.
Linewatch centers around Michael Dixon (Gooding, Jr.), a father and border patrol officer in a small, dusty New Mexico desert town who, in quick order, discovers nine dead illegal immigrants stuffed in a van, suffers the shooting of his partner, and tangles with a group of rogue, militia-style border roamers who make it their business to round up Mexicans in brutish, bounty-hunter-esque fashion. If all that’s not bad enough, Michael’s secret past also catches up with he and his wife Angela (Sharon Leal), in the form of his old Los Angeles gang leader, Kimo (Omari Hardwick, of Gridiron Gang). After a shipment of drugs is accidentally disrupted by Michael’s actions, Kimo tracks Michael down and blackmails him into helping smuggle goods across the border. Further complicating matters is the fact that Michael finds his nephew, Lonnie (Evan Ross), under sway of these negative influences, which awakens a latent sense of responsibility.
Yes, the drama here is all of a relatively familiarly milked variety (a reformed man’s choice between “the life he swore to leave behind” and his threatened young family), but David Warfield’s script is above average in dialogue and plotting, and director Kevin Bray locates the truthfulness in his actors and a similar honesty in the staging, not aiming for amped-up theatrics just in an effort to make an impression, and book his next gig. There’s a pinch here (just a pinch, mind you) of the same forelorn undercurrent on display in last year’s Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, but also enough tension and thrills to service fans of Walking Tall-type vigilante tales like Conspiracy.
Working with cinematographer Paul Sommers, Bray also shoots a gorgeous film; not only are the natural landscapes and Southwestern magic hour captured with grace and beauty, but there’s an unusual care paid to the composition for a straight-to-video thriller of this nature. All of these things help give Linewatch a bump in production value and watchability… and bring Gooding, Jr. himself into focus a bit, too.
Housed in a regular Amray plastic case stored in a cardboard slipcover with slightly raised lettering, Linewatch is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and mastered in high definition. It comes with an English language Dolby digital audio track, a wide array of subtitles, and alternate language audio options are also available. The disc’s sole supplemental element is a 19-minute making-of featurette; though rife with intercut film footage, it does include on-set interview snippets with all the principal players, on-screen and off-, and plenty of anecdotes, including producer Reuben Liber talking about Bray showing up with two duffle bags full of books that formed the inspiration for his visual approach to the movie. Rounding out the disc are previews for Tortured, Felon and eight or nine other Sony home video releases. To purchase DVD via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C+ (Disc)