As the title implies, the central figure of Ted Roach's engaging 120 Days has a short amount of time to make a very important decision. After more than a decade in the United States, Mexican-born undocumented immigrant Miguel Cortes is pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Cortes is arrested and told he has four months to exit the country of his own volition or face imprisonment. The choice of whether to uproot his family from the life they've built in North Carolina, return to Mexico alone, or escape into the night (effectively turning his family into fugitives) makes up the core of the film. As the weeks press on, the family maintains a facade of normalcy – they go to work, pray at church, and teach traditional Mexican dance classes for elementary school children. All the while, the fuse of Miguel's time in America slowly burns to its inevitable, heartbreaking end. This sense of looming dread gradually transforms into lump-in-your-throat tragedy as the calendar counts down to doomsday. When the movie periodically inserts a clip of a cable news talking head warning about the dangers of illegal immigration, the partisan rancor seems woefully out of touch with the lives of the Cortes family. The insertion of national politics into this otherwise human-scale film is just as jarring an imposition as the effect of those politics on the lives of people like Miguel Cortes.
By Aaron Sankin
Excerpted from original Austin Chronicle review