This independent film is part drama, part boxing movie, and part romance. The drama involves a white Texas rancher and the undocumented Mexican workers he needs to hire to work in his fields and the Border Patrol whose job it is to keep these workers out of the country. In the boxing part, a young undocumented farmworker finds a has-been trainer who teaches him enough in a month to fight the rancher's son, a more experienced boxer, in a bit gambling event. The romance part involves a love triangle between the boxer, a young undocumented Mexican woman, and the rancher's son. It's all predictable and full of the usual sports movie cliches. The only thing I didn't predict was the use of rattlesnakes in the movie. They showed up for a few minutes, then never returned to kill anybody as they usually do when we see snakes. Snakes are like guns in movies - if you see one briefly, it will almost certainly return to kill someone later in the movie. But sometimes they don't.
The snake scene comes at the very beginning. Near the border with Mexico, in Laredo Texas, we see a man named Tito (Steven Bauer) sitting in his van watching U.S. Border Patrol agents round up some illegal immigrants. Then we see Tito catch a rattlesnake on a pile of branches. He holds the snake down with a metal snake stick and grabs it by the neck with his bare hands. (This is a dangerous way to catch a rattlesnake. A real pro would use snake tongs or a snake hook to pick it up.) A Border Patrol van drives up and an agent named Pete walks over. Tito carries the snake over to him and puts it in Pete's face to scare him and we learn that he's friends with Pete. He puts the snake in a plastic bucket. Pete looks inside Tito's van and tells him it looks like business has been good. Inside the van we see several snake skins hanging up along with cages containing snakes, a box turtle or tortoise and a couple of Texas alligator lizards.
Then at night we see Tito guiding a group of people into his van and receiving some drugs. Now we know that Tito uses his snake-collecting business as a cover for his business of smuggling farmworkers and drugs. (We learn later that the drugs are steroids for the boxers.)
That's all for snakes in the movie. The next time we see inside the van we see some skins hanging inside but nothing else. As I said, I expected a good snake-bite scene later, but it didn't happen. We only hear some comments about Tito and his snake business, and a snake story. - Hours before the climactic boxing match, Tito is smuggling the boxer and his girlfriend up to Laredo. Pete the Border Patrol agent and his partner drive up and ask to inspect Tito's van. Tito tells Pete's partner about the time he saved Pete's life from a rattlesnake bite by sucking the poison out of his leg. Tito tells Pete that that he saved the snake's skin and offers to give it to Pete because ""the old folks say it wards away evil spirits." Tito tells that story in order to convince Pete not to look inside his van where he would have found the undocumented people, and it works. Pete doesn't open the door. But Pete does Tito that the National Guard are coming so he can't hunt snakes there anymore, and he will be forced to send Tito back to Mexico if he ever sees him there again.
The rattlesnakes we see in cages are live snakes. I'm not sure what species, but they could be western rattlesnakes or western diamond-backed rattlesnakes. The snake Tito catches and holds up to Pete's face is a fake prop painted to look like a rattlesnake. It's too flat and lifeless to look real, but it's good enough and on screen so briefly that most people will be fooled. It appears that Tito hunts rattlesnakes for their skins. If so, he probably wouldn't bother to keep them alive in cages. Skin hunters (or "hat banders" they used to be called, because they often made hat bands out of rattlesnake skin) probably just kill the snakes and put them in a cooler.