The Milagro Beanfield War (1988) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)



Critic Consensus: Arguably Robert Redford's most inchoate work, The Milagro Beanfield War has plenty of beautiful moments, but they don't quite add up to a worthwhile whole.

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Movie Info

It's advisable to know from the beginning of The Milagro Beanfield War that "milagro" is the Spanish word for "miracle." The scene is a rundown Hispanic community in New Mexico, bordering a posh housing development. In full control of the local water rights, the powers-that-be are secure in the belief that they'll be able to expand their development without resistance from the locals. No one can foresee that impoverished farmer Joe Mondragon (Chick Vennera), during a burst of frustrated rage, will accidentally open a heretofore hidden sluice, thereby providing free water for his bean field. At first, the locals are against Mondragon's "insurrection," reasoning that the new housing development will provide jobs. But with the help of Charlie Bloom (John Heard), a burned-out '60s activist who now runs the community newspaper, Mondragon becomes the hero of the hour, the spiritual leader of an ever-growing "no development" movement. The evil land developers send their minions to intimidate or coerce Mondragon; each time, however, he is seemingly 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 in the nick of time by what appears to be a miracle. And there are more wonders to behold before fade-out time! Whimsical, yes, but thanks to its hand-picked ensemble cast (including Sonia Braga, Rubén Blades, James Gammon, Daniel Stern, Freddy Fender, M. Emmet Walsh, and Melanie Griffith) the film remains totally credible throughout. Adapted by John Nichols and David Ward from Nichols' own novel, The Milagro Beanfield War may be the most likeable "liberal-tract" film of the 1980s. Robert Redford's appropriately Capraesque direction is matched by Dave Grusin's vibrant Oscar-winning musical score.more
Rating: R (adult situations/language, violence)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: David S. Ward, Frank Pierson, John Nichols, Robert Jones
In Theaters:
On DVD: May 31, 2005
MCA Universal Home Video


Chick Vennera
as Joe Mondragon
Richard Bradford
as Ladd Devine
Carlos Riquelme
as Amarante Cordova
Ruben Blades
as Sheriff Bernabe Mont...
Sonia Braga
as Ruby Archuleta
Julie Carmen
as Nancy Mondragon
James Gammon
as Horse Thief Shorty
Melanie Griffith
as Flossie Devine
John Heard
as Charlie Bloom
Daniel Stern
as Herbie Platt
Christopher Walken
as Kyril Montana
Freddy Fender
as Mayor Sammy Cantu
Tony Genaro
as Nick Rael
Jerry Hardin
as Emerson Capps
Robert Carricart
as Coyote Angel
China Bell
as Devine's Friend
M. Emmet Walsh
as The Governor
Juanita Nicholas
as Devine's Friend
Gene Ornales
as Governor's Office St...
Frederico Roberto
as Senile Brigade
Pablo Trujillo
as Senile Brigade
Lynda Witz
as Governor's Office St...
Natividad Vacio
as Senile Brigade
Eloy Vigil
as Senile Brigade
Trinidad Silva
as Milagro Townsperson
Mike Gomez
as Milagro Townsperson
Olga Merediz
as Milagro Townsperson
Rudy Fernandez
as Milagro Townsperson
Fredrick Lopez
as Milagro Townsperson
Jimmy Martinez
as Milagro Townsperson
Eric Treisman
as Devine's Friend
Nat Shipman
as Devine's Friend
Margo Cutler
as Devine's Friend
Patricio Chavez
as Devine's Friend
Basil Hoffman
as Governor's Office St...
Sam Vlahos
as Governor's Office St...
Tom Connor
as Dancing Angel
Philip L. Mead
as Governor's Office St...
Ronald C. Frazier
as Governor's Office St...
Alberto Morin
as Senile Brigade
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Milagro Beanfield War

Critic Reviews for The Milagro Beanfield War

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (7)

Redford and company have put a quirky twist on the material, investing it with a quasi-mystical aspect as well as some raw comedy.

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Top Critic

Fairly choked with good intentions, whimsy, touches of fantasy, and cardboard liberal stereotypes.

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Redford's film sustains a slow mood of simpatico amiability and photographs the landscape with moony or golden washes that are perhaps hard to dislike, but is slain by its adherence to an outdated populist mythology.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The film is very big on sunsets and sunrises. It also has a touristy appreciation for all manner of things folkloric. What it doesn't have is dramatic coherence or backbone.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

If Redford had left out a few of the waffling, undecided characters and drawn his dramatic lines more strongly, the film might have been a lot more powerful.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Corny, you bet. But that's to be admired in an old war horse on the last frontier.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Milagro Beanfield War


Preachy but well acted. Redford at times is more concentrated on the message rather than allowing the film to put that forward naturally.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Great movie by Robert Redford, Sonia Braga is phenomenal!

Leo L

Super Reviewer


Redford does a good job as director presenting a cinematic frame for the New Mexico impoverished countryside that is the setting for this story. But even at two-hours, I remaoined unsold as to the reason that we have this conflict in the first place. Chick Vennera plays Joe as a hapless family man who gets frustrated at his lack of opportunity at working for the new resort/golf development in his hometown. He turns on the water to a beanfield in his yard. Water that baned from local irrigation.

At this point, entreprenuers become moustache-twirling bad guys. They fear political backlash of just arresting him and then try to find other ways to fuck with Joe's day to get him to back down. This in turn, rallies the local community against the development. Maybe I just don't have that same sense of "home"- but everyone ignores the value that the money will bring them and focuses on the increased taxes that will surely come. These are impoverished people anyway. They're not being exploited, maybe just displaced. And probably compensated for that displacement.

In the end, the good guys are all sporting halos and the bad guys are comically evil. Even Walken is a caricature. It makes the story less believable. And I don't know what good the ghost brings to the proceedings at all.

Nik Browning

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