Most Hollywood fare tackling immigration follow the same playbook.
Open borders good. Law and order bad.
We’ve seen it in TV shows, documentaries and feature films of late, and it’s likely to continue deep into President Joe Biden’s administration.
“No Man’s Land” provides a different perspective. The drama shows the calamitous effects of illegal border crossings as well as the hardships Mexican immigrants endure en route to the U.S. That’s refreshing, yet “No Man’s Land” lacks the dramatic urgency a tale of its kind demands.
The Greer family owns a ranch along the Texas-Mexico border, and the latest incursion by illegal immigrants rocks their wobbly finances. Some Greer cattle ran off after the immigrants broke the ranch’s fencing, setting the family back thousands.
So Papa Greer (Frank Grillo) and his teen sons set off to Mexico to bring their steer back. They run into a group of illegal immigrants, and gunfire erupts after one of the immigrants attacks the family with a knife. A Mexican boy is killed and one of the teen Greers is critically wounded.
Jackson Greer (Jake Allyn) fired the shot that hit the Mexican lad, but Grillo’s patriarch tells the police he accidentally killed the boy. Jackson, consumed by grief and confusion, flees deep into Mexico after a local sheriff (an effective George Lopez) suspects the truth behind the lie.
One reason “No Man’s Land” lacks emotional heft is the way it clings to, and yet avoids, the progressive narrative on immigration. We’re meant to watch Jackson connect with Mexican people, and their culture, and see him push past his prejudices.
Bigot Sees the Light.
It’s a reasonable, if cliched, narrative echoing modern Hollywood tropes.
Yet Jackson is no bigot, nor is his family. Sure, they resent the immigrants streaming onto their property and wrecking havoc on their ranch and livelihood.
They aren’t anti-Mexican or racist, at least not shown here. In fact, an early scene shows Jackson allowing a young illegal immigrant to escape, a powerful act of kindness.
So where’s the character arc?
Even Jackson’s brother (Alex MacNicoll) has sympathy for the illegals streaming into the country. He gently explains to Jackson how “hunger” can make someone risk everything, even their lives.
Sound hateful to you?
That leaves us with two unfolding stories. Jackson meets a series of Mexicans during his impromptu journey -- some warm and welcoming, others far less so. Once again “No Man’s Land” avoids saintly stereotypes.
The other story involves Jorge A. Jimenez as Gustavo, the father of the slain boy. Gustavo vows to make Jackson pay for his crime. The father is joined by Luis (Andres Delgado), a stock movie villain who nonetheless breathes energy into every scene he’s in.
That subplot awkwardly interrupts the main story, demanding silly plot contrivances to keep it going. Far better is seeing Jackson, a pitching prospect with a Yankees tryout looming, find his creature comforts erased throughout his journey.
“No Man’s Land” is a family affair, directed by Conor Allyn and starring brother Jake Allyn, who co-wrote the script. The Texas natives bring some welcome specificity to the story, particularly with the Greer family early in the film.
The Mexican clan gets less details, but the story allows for the full spectrum of their grief in a way many movies avoid.
Immigration stories demand both empathy and balance, something the Allyns deliver over and again with their film, despite its flaws.
HiT or Miss: “No Man’s Land” is earnest to a fault, but its willingness to air both sides of the immigration debate isn’t enough to recommend it.