What was it Humphrey Bogart said about the problems of little people and “a hill of beans”? Whatever it was, here’s the movie that sets out to prove him wrong. Here, in an arid, remote corner of New Mexico, a penniless farmer (Chick Vennera) impulsively pirates water to irrigate his beanfield, thereby starting a chain reaction that threatens to bring crashing down a coalition of statewide politicians and wealthy real estate developers. Robert Redford’s 1988 movie adapts John Nichols’ novel of the same name, a book that offered a rich stew of political satire, social anthropology, ribald sex farce, and Mexican-American folklore.
The film version is kind of a mushy, less flavorful, refried-bean version of the book, but there’s still plenty to chew on in its David-and-Goliath depiction of a proud people with a vanishing way of life, pitted against vast and impersonal forces of business, bureaucracy, and racial misunderstanding. And the movie contains some memorable performances by Ruben Blades, Sonia Braga, Christopher Walken, and especially Carlos Riquelme, as the old-timer who comes closest to embodying the spirit of his community and of Nichols’ magical-realist fable.
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