Milagro Beanfield War, The (1988): Redford’s Second Film as Director

It took Robert Redford eight years after sweeping the 1980 Oscars with Ordinary People (Best Picture, Best Director) to helm his second film, a more overtly political saga.

Set in a rundown Hispanic community in New Mexico, which borders rich housing development, the tale centers on a group of white men who control the local water rights and  hope to expand their development without resistance from the poor residents.

But alas the impoverished farmer Joe Mondragon (Chick Vennera), during a burst of rage, accidentally opens a hidden sluice, which provides free water for his bean field. At first, the locals are against Mondragon’s “insurrection,” hoping that the new housing development will provide jobs.

With the help of Charlie Bloom (John Heard), a 1960s activist who now runs the community newspaper, Mondragon becomes the spiritual leader of a growing “no development” movement.

The evil land developers send their minions to intimidate or coerce Mondragon, but each time he seems to be protected from harm by divine intervention.

When Mondragon is forced to shoot a trespasser on his land, it looks as though his luck has run out. Chased into the hills by private detective Kyril Montana (Christopher Walken), Mondragon is once more rescued by what appears to be a miracle. “Milagro” is the Spanish word for “miracle.”

The large, colorful international ensemble includes Sonia Braga, Rubén Blades, James Gammon, Daniel Stern, Freddy Fender, M. Emmet Walsh, and Melanie Griffith.

Adapted by John Nichols and David Ward from Nichols’ own novel, The Milagro Beanfield War is a “liberal” film that wears its politics on its sleeves.

Dave Grusin won the Oscar for his vibrant musical score, which contributes immensely to the tale’s serio-comic mood.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Score: Dave Grusin

Oscar Awards: 1