The product of two brothers, filmmakers and Texans, “No Man’s Land” is an earnest attempt to reverse the stereotyped narrative of illegal immigration into America — instead, the white man is the one who crosses the border illegally. The film was released in theaters and on demand on Friday, Jan. 22.
Marketed as a contemporary Western, the Conor and Jake Allyn film features some obvious parallels to the popular genre — the rough landscape of the Texas-Mexico border, the cowboy hat-wearing horse lovers, the lone wolf archetype and even a nod to the classic gun duel at the climax of the film.
That being said, “No Man’s Land” subverts some themes of the classic Western, surprising the viewer with an occasional act of forgiveness instead of shootouts being the only way to settle a score.
“No Man’s Land” follows Jackson Greer (Jake Allyn), the son of a cattle rancher living near the Texas-Mexico border, who accidentally shoots a Mexican immigrant boy while out on patrol as a border vigilante one night. His father tries to take the blame, but Texas Ranger Ramirez (George Lopez) suspects Jackson fired the shot.
Jackson flees to Mexico on his horse, Sundance, seeking forgiveness from the boy’s father before the police catch up to him. Meanwhile Gustavo, the boy’s father, is on his own manhunt, wanting to avenge the death of his young son.
While “No Man’s Land” seems like a politically charged film on the surface, the Allyn brothers attempted to avoid a political stance and instead produced a story about human kindness. When Jackson arrives in Mexico exhausted, wounded and not speaking a word of Spanish, he is taken in without question by kind Mexican families.
Considering the culture of hate that has developed toward undocumented immigrants in America, it’s hard to believe Jackson would be received with such impetuous compassion by people who haven’t been treated with the same empathy.
While well-intentioned, Jackson’s reception was naive, and a flaw in the narrative. The Allyn brothers may have wanted to tell a heartfelt story, but as a whole it felt ignorant. Jackson crosses the Texas-Mexico border in the same manner as thousands of undocumented immigrants have in the past, but instead of being chased away by homeowners with guns (as Jackson and his family did earlier in the film), he is shown hospitality by Mexican families.
“No Man’s Land” takes place mostly in Mexico, and features a bilingual script co-written by Jake Allyn and Mexican screenwriter David Barraza. Additionally, many of the supporting actors and crew members are Mexican.
Jake Allyn’s performance as the guilt-ridden Jackson helps viewers sympathize with the character, and the film comes to an emotional head when Jackson finally comes face-to-face with Gustavo.
There are also a number of supporting characters who add varying levels of depth to the film: Established Hollywood actors Frank Grillo and Andie MacDowell play Jackson’s worried parents, and George Lopez’s Texas Ranger fits nicely into the narrative.
But there is also a would-be love interest, Victoria, played by Esmerelda Pimentel, who has only a fleeting few moments on screen. Another character who desperately wants a backstory is Luis, a man who smuggles immigrants across the border. He is slight but menacing, with a dyed-blonde mohawk, piercings and tattoos.
Both Luis and Victoria leave viewers wanting more — maybe a “No Man’s Land” limited series should be in the works.
“No Man’s Land” looked and felt real without trying too hard, caring less about showing off a big budget and more about telling a human story. It was emotional and timely, but in its attempt to advocate for an amicable resolution to the tense topic of illegal immigration, it offered too much grace to its white lead.
Rating: 3 Sundances out of 5