The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)

A line art drawing shows one man dressed in traditional Mexican western attire being chased on horses by four men with guns.
The Criterion Collection cover art for the 1982 movie The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, directed by Robert M. Young
About the movie
  • Director: Robert M. Young
  • Starring: Edward James Olmos, James Gammon, Tom Bower
  • Yes or no?: Yes
  • Links: on Letterboxd, IMDb page
Other reviews:

I came across this movie at a used bookstore while on the lookout for some movies that would fit in my collection. I picked this up and immediately held onto it because it was a western thing with that starred Edward James Olmos front and center. I expected action and a solid story. What I got was a tremendously moving and sad tale of what amounts to just plain old racism making one man’s life hell.

Much like today, the people of Texas at the turn of the 20th Century are set on killing someone they think did a crime. A couple of lawmen, played by James Gammon and Brion James, are attempting to capture the suspect, Gregorio Cortez, for killing two sheriffs in various shootouts over a suspected stealing of a horse. They also have an interest in keeping him alive, as Texas is seen as a bit too vigilante for polite society. These lawmen have the added task of working to move Texas away from killing everyone suspected of a crime and toward due process of law.

So the race is on: Cortez trying to make the Mexican border, a band of vigilantes out to hang him, and a couple of cops trying to capture him alive to put him on trial. We get the tale as told through various characters to a reporter for the San Antonio Star, played by Bruce McGill.

The treatment of his family and the hopelessness of escaping the racism of the crowd following him ultimately determine what Cortez will do. Even his honorable decision is met with further injustice. The tale is memorialized in song which, along with the depiction of the mood in Texas toward people who don’t fit the idea of the model Texan, persists today.

Olmos is outstanding in the movie. I did not expect to me as affected by the story as I was, and it was his acting that pulled me in. Jame sand Gammon are both awesome, along with a competent and perfectly skeptical McGill. This was a lucky and welcome find. It’s great to be able to add something meaningful to the collection while learning a bit about my country in the process.

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February 05, 2024
Tags: racism | criterion collection | texas
Categories: Reviews