No Man’s Land is a well-meaning, but inherently flawed western drama. A Texas border rancher’s son flees into Mexico after accidentally killing an immigrant boy. The film attempts to humanize the thorny issue of illegal immigration from multiple points of view. Its goals are admirable, but the narrative succumbs to contrivances and simplistic exposition. The reversal of fortune storyline becomes clichéd through unrealistic plot developments. That said, No Man’s Land can be appreciated for its noble efforts.
No Man’s Land opens with the Greer family working diligently to corral their cattle. Bill Greer (Frank Grillo) has trained his two sons, Lucas (Alex MacNicoll) and Jackson (Jake Allyn), to be more than competent horsemen. He and his wife (Andie MacDowell) are especially excited about Jackson’s future prospects. He’s been invited to try out for the New York Yankees minor league baseball team. The Greers face a constant struggle on the ranch. Mexican immigrants trespass on their land to try and cross the border.
Gustavo (Jorge A. Jiménez) leads a small group of immigrants through the dangerous “no man’s land” between Texas and Mexico. He’s accompanied by his sons and mother. A Christian with deep faith, Gustavo is fondly called “the shepherd.” On a dark night, they encounter Bill and his sons as they search for scattered cattle. A skirmish leads to a devastating outcome. Jackson escapes into Mexico consumed by guilt. He’s chased by a Texas Ranger (George Lopez) seeking the truth behind the deadly incident.
Jake Allyn, who stars as Jackson, co-wrote the script. His brother, Conor Allyn, directs. Their goal is to establish empathy for the characters suffering on each side of the border. Financial hardship has led to tragedy for two families. Jackson also learns the kindness of Mexicans as he is helped several times on the run. He becomes the illegal alien, desperate for help in a strange and unknown environment. The Allyns have admirable intentions with their narrative. The problem is that No Man’s Land strays into unbelievable and frankly patronizing territory. The entire second act is too fantastical. The film loses gravitas by repeatedly putting the protagonist in implausible situations that benefit him.
I have a major issue with a key supporting character. George Lopez co-stars as Ramirez, a Texas Ranger who can’t speak Spanish. The idea that he would be sent into Mexico to retrieve Jackson is ludicrous. He has great difficulty communicating with his Mexican counterparts and the locals he wants to interrogate. This subplot makes no sense whatsoever. I can only guess that Jake Allyn didn’t want to paint every Hispanic character with the same ethic brush. This is a particularly big misstep that also detracts from the seriousness of the primary story arc.
Illegal immigration on the southern border is a firestorm of division in this country. The Greers are not militia or “Minutemen”, but they have a right to protect their property and livelihood. The Latin Americans fleeing poverty and violence are desperate for a better life. No Man’s Land embraces both points of view while trying to be thoughtful and teachable. The film, on the whole, is not successful; but does convey its message of understanding. No Man’s Land would have benefited from a rewrite to pare down several characters. No Man’s Land is a production of Margate House Films. It will have a concurrent theatrical and premium video on demand release from IFC Films on January 22nd.
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