2021 Sundance Review: At the Ready

Director(s): Maisie Crow

Synopsis: A group of seniors train to become police officers and Border Patrol agents at El Paso’s Horizon High School, near the U.S./Mexico border.

El Paso, a city that lies on the Mexican/American border, is one of the safest major cities in all of the United States. At The Ready is a story about how this came to be. El Paso is high on their law enforcement, as it is one of the only occupations that not only has comparable wages to the national average but does not require a college degree. Early on in the film, we are shown through one of our families what this opportunity means, and what the ability to make a living wage.

This film is really split up into three main stories that we follow. They are Cristina Martinez, a recent graduate who is deciding where she wants to look for work in the law enforcement and border patrol agencies, and Cesar Avila and Mason Daniel Heath Garcia (known as Kassy in the film), two Horizon High School seniors who are a part of the criminal justice club with aspirations to be Border Patrol officers in the future.

As we follow these three young adults through their difficulties in chasing their dreams, we are able to witness their lives take place, and their struggles to combat not only their desires but their home lives as well. Mason and Cesar both are in similar situations living in single-parent households. Cesar, still in the care of his mom, really explains to us the difficult situation with his father and his father’s lust for wanting more. Cesar wants a relationship with his father, but the mistakes of his father’s past have made that difficult. This leads Cesar to a difficult decision later in the film that really took a lot for him to make. However, while Cesar is still able to receive help and support from his mom, Mason does not have that same luxury.

I think Mason’s story is the one that stuck with me the most, and let me just say I am so happy he is able to be who he is, but the difficulties of having to basically raise yourself, while also living this double life at the time is a daunting task. He’s one of the people who care the most about what he is doing, as you can see in the few times they had to be security for different school-sanctioned events, but he is also the person who receives the least amount of support. The amount of time and effort he put into this club, and the stress and struggles he dealt with personally, are unfathomable, and a moment towards the end was a true gut punch I was not expecting from this film at all.

What I enjoyed so much about this documentary was that what started as a look into the Border Patrol classes and functions offered at Horizon High School was altered into a real character study into the difficulties that Mexican-Americans face in this community. I don’t fully know if this is what Maisie Crow was going for, but I applaud her for being able to adapt and find a truly intimate and personal story under the guise of Border Patrol classes. She brought a truly intimate hand to the film and never exploited the lives of these kids, but gave a glimpse into what it is like.

I also applaud her for how she was able to tackle the political spectrum that surrounds law enforcement. Crow was able to use the rhetoric former President Trump would use, in certain situations regarding the Mexican/American border, and show that the harmful speech he was relaying was seen as just that to the high schoolers who were planning to go into the enforcements he was mentioning, harmful. One scene after Beto O’Rourke’s loss to Ted Cruz between Cristina and her mother was heartbreaking. The pain and betrayal they felt were palpable, and Cristina’s questioning of if she wanted to continue this path was difficult. She couldn’t help but feel guilty for wanting to join into these same situations that she felt were so wrong, but she also knew this was what she wanted to do, and had the full support of her family behind her. This subject in general I think is a difficult one for this time, but I believe Maisie Williams did a really good job of maintaining a balance of getting her message across, while also not forcing anything on the audience. Ms. Weaver, one of the law enforcement teachers, said it best when mentioning how she never tried to force her opinion on her students and allowed them to think freely. I believe Crow did the same where she never tried to force her opinions onto the viewer, but instead nudge them in the direction she wanted us to go. It is a thin line to cross, but I do think she handled it well.

Final: At The Ready is not just a look into the paths from high school to Border Patrol for Horizon High School students, but also an intimate peek into the lives of Mexican-Americans with dreams of law enforcement. Maisie Crow shows us three different stories, and intimately puts the kid’s lives into the light instead of their dreams of law enforcement. This is a great telling of the struggles it takes to be a kid today, and the difficult decisions they have to make.

My Score: B+

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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