On his last day at work before mandatory retirement, the bitter, alcoholic Marshall (David Rasche) starts drinking on the job. He is the chief immigrations officer at JFK airport, and his two co-workers (Frank Grillo and Erica Gimpel) are hoping he’ll pick them as his successor, so they indulge him when he decides to randomly harass a group of Latin and South Americans entering the country.
Among them are a Cuban ballet dancer, an Argentine couple smuggling cocaine and Brazilian Nonato (Irandhir Santos), a legal U.S. resident returning from a visit with his daughter. Two thirds of Blue Eyes unfolds inside the Border Customs office at the airport, where the guards become progressively bolder at humiliating the foreigners who don’t understand why they are being retained.
The more Marshall drinks, the more his racism and hatred bubble to the surface, eventually turning into violence. Director Jose Joffily allows the tension to mount gradually, making us privy to the thoughts of the officers and travelers and exploring the mind set of foreigners in the post-9/11 era.
But the airport stand-off scenes are all flashbacks. Blue Eyes continually cuts away to the present, when a run-down Marshall, dying of cancer, seeks the help of a young prostitute (Cristina Lago) to track down Nonato’s daughter. The split nature of the narrative defuses the suspense — we know from the opening moments how this tragedy will end — and the back and forth adds considerably to the running time, which starts to feel mighty long. The airport sequences, though, would make a pretty good stage play.
Cast: David Rasche, Frank Grillo, Erica Gimpel, Irandhir Santos. Cristina Lago.
Screenwriters:Melanie Demantas, Paulo Halm.
Running time: 110 minutes. In English, Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles. Vulgar language, brief nudity, violence, drug use, adult themes.