A lot of commentators try to present immigration as a dry, conceptual matter about sovereignty and legal matters, but the issue’s human face makes it way too adaptable to storytelling. That’s what’s killing anti-immigration activism in public polling — people like good stories too goddamn much.
The sharp, funny Coyote documents the narratives of two people disconnected from the realities of cross-border politics. One is a federal inspector meeting U.S. border agents for the first time. The other is Brian (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.), a 30-year-old living at home with his mom and sister who gets fired from his job as a teacher of a food handling and management course.
Nothing says “social misfit” like a shot of a skinny, shirtless dude working out with fitness bands, but writer-director Joe Eddy’s most impressive magic trick is to present characters who seem at first to be flat, hilarious caricatures and then endow them with unexpected depth.
When Brian’s burnout uncle hires him for a construction job, he meets Manuel, an undocumented immigrant played soulfully by Carlos Pratts. The coyote who brought Manuel across the border is holding his mother and sister captive until Manuel pays him. Brian concocts a dangerous scheme to recover them, and the two travel to Mexico.
The narrative hinges at every turn on moments of human connection, scary confrontations other films would resolve with violence finding unexpected (and probably unlikely) detours into humor and empathy.
An apparent conceit of Eddy’s, the point isn’t to illustrate the hard realities of poverty and immigration (although that’s part of the agenda); it’s to emphasize with other people’s pain.