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A still from <i>At the Ready</i> by Maisie Crow, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Movie Reviews

[Sundance ’21] ‘At the Ready’ review: A look at three young lives from Horizon High School

A look at the border through high school eyes.

At the Ready is an emotional look at an interesting club at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas. The Criminal Justice Club is a group of students that are planning for a future in law enforcement. This includes the United States Border Patrol. Being that the school is ten miles from the Mexican border, this leads to conflicts and questions about the future.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, the documentary focuses on three people. Cristina is a recent high school graduate who is troubled by current events. Cassandra is looking for a support system, while Cesar is torn between his career aspirations and family. At the Ready does an excellent job of showcasing the three lives. All of them are connected through the club, but they each have their own stories to tell. The documentary makes sure to focus on the individual. This brings an additional layer to an already interesting film.

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While the documentary does intersperse border issues, it is a very personal film. Cassandra, who now goes by Mason, came out as transgender after the filming. At the Ready chronicles his journey to find support. His story is sad at times, but it is also inspiring to see someone make such difficult decisions about their life. This is captured throughout the documentary and is very powerful.

Cristina’s segments are just as poignant. All three students are dealing with how their career choice ties in to what is happening in El Paso. Cristina seems to be taking it especially hard. The documentary was filmed during Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for the U.S Senate. She is still interested in joining the Border Patrol, but she also supports O’Rourke. She is also deeply affected by the separation of children from their families.

[Sundance '21] 'At the Ready' review: A look at three young lives from Horizon High School

Cesar’s story sees him grapple with what he wants to do with his future. He feels that the club is taking away time from his father. In a film filled with touching moments, these are some of At the Ready’s most heartfelt. Cesar is very close with his family – his interactions with his younger brother are show stealing – and he relishes to have those same opportunities with his dad.

Family is a recurring theme in At the Ready. Mason is seen alone at home many times. He craves a support system to help through the trying times. Meanwhile, Cristina’s family is supportive of her career choice but opposed to border restrictions. These are very intimate looks that provide an emotional depth that does not always come through in documentaries.

Director Maisie Crow does a great job of crafting a non partisan documentary in a time when everything seemingly requires people to take a political side. This allows for the focus to be on what the students are doing and how the world is affecting them. It would have been easy for At the Ready to lose its focus. Instead, it is a strong film with a tight focus.

Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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