Sundance 2021: ‘At the Ready’ Movie Review
At the Ready, a documentary shot in El Paso, Texas, chronicles the lives of three students and their aspirations to pursue a career in Border Patrol. However, as they grow closer to achieving their goals, the three students begin to reflect on what it means for themselves, their values, and their families. Under the direction of Maisie Crow, At the Ready tells a very poignant story of identity.
Filmed in my hometown of El Paso, Texas, At the Ready strikes a more personal chord. At least compared to the other documentary features I have watched at Sundance so far. The way it captures the beauty of the Mountain landscapes of the border city is amazing. Seeing buildings, streets, and other locales that I know personally made this film feel extra special.
At the Ready maintains a focus on Horizon High School and their after school program of police and border patrol training. This in and of itself is a controversial subject matter. With recent protests against police brutality, it can be uncomfortable to watch. Seeing these students learn combat tactics and using fake firearms with little to no realization of the weight of that responsibility is sad. The educators behind this program are also worrying. Seeing one teachers use the phrase “light them up” in reference to discharging a firearm was especially unsettling. It’s a lens that shows the potential problems with those entering law enforcement.
The three subjects that the documentary is focused on help paint a light on this as well. Watching their immersion in the environment of police work is frightening. Instead of the process being like regular job training, it seems like more of a culture. The emphasis on their proceedings and passion for their jobs make it seem much more than what it should be. At the Ready puts on display an intense look at police culture. Because of how engrained the culture on display is, it in turn also shows the low probability of there being reform in this department. It is a sad revelatory truth that At the Ready puts on display.
Moreover, the fact that it is presented through the lens of the youth of El Paso makes it even more disheartening. Here we see young students already practicing to abuse some of their powers. Specifically, the way that we see them practice. For instance, the way they act unknowing that the camera is catching their playing with a gun is scary. Some students joke about using their future positions of authority as some sort of swagger. Add to that the political backdrop of a race in Texas for senate and you get every possible aspect you can from this documentary.
For all the scary possibilities, though, At the Ready shows some optimism for the future state of our society. Some students recognize the bigotry on display from some teachers in law enforcement. One student leaves, and chooses to put her work into other passions. Some want to try and change it from the inside. Because of this At the Ready is a powerful documentary that is a thoughtful look into one border city in the U.S and their youth, who want to be the change they wish to see. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10