No Turning Back
aka Sin Retorno

No Turning Back

English and Spanish language. USA, 2001. Not yet rated. 98 minutes.

Cast: Jesús Nebot, Chelsea Rendon, Lindsay Price, Vernée Watson-Johnson, Susan Haskell, Paul Ganus, Robert Vestal, Joe Estevez
Writers: Jesús Nebot, Julia Montejo
Music: Steven Chesne
Cinematographer: Ian Fox
Producers: Jesús Nebot
Director: Jesús Nebot, Julia Montejo


Grade: B- Review by Carlo Cavagna

I magine yourself as an educated widower in Central America. The best job you can get pays a pittance, and your young daughter has no future there, particularly after Hurricane Mitch destroys your home. Would you prefer to work as a field hand in Southern California, where your daughter will have better opportunities in life than you have? You very well might. So you cross the border illegally and settle down in the United States. Your young daughter enrolls in school, and by her sixth birthday is speaking perfect unaccented English. The threat of deportation is constant, though. You don't have any rights, and you can't afford to get into any trouble.

What do you do when trouble finds you? You're driving your employer's truck; a little girl runs into the street, and you hit her. Fleeing the scene of the accident would be wrong, but help is already on the way. You may be guilty of negligence, but you're no murderer with malice in your heart. Without legal protections, you'll wind up in jail or worse. There's nothing you can do for this little girl, but you still have a responsibility to your own daughter. If you stay, she will lose the only parent she has left. What do you do? If Nebot and Rendon in No Turning Backyou're Pablo Fernandez (Jesús Nebot), you gather up your daughter Cristina (Chelsea Rendon), and you run.

No Turning Back is the screenwriting and directing debut of Spanish actor Jesús Nebot, who explains that his film is based on true incident, inspired by documentary footage shown to him in 1999 by a mysterious Asian-American journalist whom he has never seen again. In Nebot's fictionalized version, he portrays a desperate but good-hearted man whose options dissipate as he is gradually boxed in. Although No Turning Back is very much a freshman effort in that it is sometimes too melodramatic and obvious with its politics, the overall result is an impressive and powerful bit of filmmaking.

The inherent intensity of the conflict and the home-movie realism keep the story focused and driving forward while Nebot's passionate performance glues the film together. He's supported by credible efforts from Rendon and Susan Haskell as Mrs. Knight, the mother of the girl Pablo kills. Lindsay Price (as "Soid," the young Venice Beach documentary filmmaker who gloms onto Pablo and Cristina), Vernee Watson-Johnson (as Detective Bryant, who hunts Pablo), Robert Vestal (as Detective Lightning, Bryant's partner), and Paul Ganus (as Dr. Knight, the dead girl's father) are less credible, however, as more broadly written characters with murky motivations. Their roles have been created to serve story functions without having been fully conceived as complete individuals in their own right. Detective Bryant's hostility against Hispanic-Americans, for example, is an element clumsily forced into the narrative to strengthen the political statement. Moreover, Price, previously seen on Beverly Hills 90210, is a little too much the Southern California beach girl to be equated with the mysterious documentarian Nebot describes as his inspiration.

Given that No Turning Back depicts the hardships of a segment of our population that draws little of our empathy and much of our anger, the lack of subtlety in the tone is forgivable. The film deserves to be seen not because of politically correct concerns, but for its moving emotional journey. Will Pablo beat the odds, or become yet another victim of a world stacked against him?

Review © February 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 No Turning Back LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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