I remember talking with John Nichols after Redford’s making of the Beanfield War from his classic novel. He wasn’t entirely happy with the results but what’s to be expected converting a beautiful novel to the screen. The Great Compromise … It wasn’t a great film but a very fine film that captured some of Nichols novel and the magic of the Taos/Northern New Mexico scene of the 70’s early 80’s as the wealthy white population invaded full force with money and desire to create a new paradise when it already existed. Nichols novel captured the real spirit of the times and the film got close. Definitely a movie to watch, it’s a beautiful little cult film for northern New Mexico aficionados.
The Milagro Beanfield War is a 1988 American comedy-drama film directed by Robert Redford from a screenplay written by John Nichols and David S. Ward based on Nichols’s novel of the same name. The ensemble cast includes Ruben Blades, Richard Bradford, Sônia Braga, Julie Carmen, James Gammon, Melanie Griffith, John Heard, Carlos Riquelme, Daniel Stern, Chick Vennera, and Christopher Walken.
The film tells of one man’s struggle as he defends his small beanfield and his community against much larger business and state political interests.
Filmed on location in Truchas, New Mexico, the film is set in the fictional rural town of Milagro, in northern New Mexico with a population of 500, a predominantly Hispanic and Catholic town, with a largely interrelated population face a crisis when politicians and business interests make a backroom deal to usurp the town’s water in order to pave the way for a land buy-out. Due to the new laws, Joe Mondragon is unable to make a living farming because he is not allowed to divert water from an irrigation ditch that runs past his property.
Frustrated, and unable to find work, Joe visits his father’s field. He happens upon a tag that reads “prohibited” covering a valve on the irrigation ditch. He kicks the valve, unintentionally breaking it, allowing water to flood his fields. He decides against repairing the valve and instead decides to plant beans in the field. This leads to a confrontation with powerful state interests, including a hired gun brought in from out of town.
An escalation of events follows, leading to a final showdown between law enforcement and the citizens of Milagro.