No Man’s Land, 2021.
Directed by Conor Allyn.
Starring Jake Allyn, Frank Grillo, Jorge A. Jimenez, Alex MacNicoll, Andrés Delgado, Ofelia Medina, Esmerelda Pimentel, Andie MacDowell, and George Lopez.
Border vigilante Bill Greer (Frank Grillo) and his son Jackson (Jake Allyn) are on patrol when Jackson accidentally kills a Mexican immigrant boy. Bill tries to take the blame but Texas Ranger Ramirez (George Lopez) sees through the lie, spurring Jackson to flee south on horseback across the Rio Grande to become a gringo “illegal alien” in Mexico. Chased by Texas Rangers and Mexican federales, Jackson journeys across deserts and mountains to seek forgiveness from the dead boy’s vengeful father (Jorge A. Jimenez), as he falls in love with the land he was taught to hate.
The perspectives of those carrying opposing viewpoints coming from all walks of life are just as invaluable as the points of view that line up with our own (to an extent, discounting certain traitors and conspiracy theorists), which is partly why the idea of a rancher inside the titular no man’s land separating the US and Mexico seeking redemption from both his misguided ways and a heinous accidental action is intriguing. Unfortunately, the story of No Man’s Land is a bit one-sided as helmed by director Conor Allyn with writer Jake Allyn also in the starring role of Jackson, a potential future MLB player signed on to the Yankees AA team with hopes of bringing the family fame and fortune, who actually is not too impressed by his own athletic talent and would prefer remaining a rancher.
Obviously, life doesn’t go as planned; Jackson alongside his brother Lucas (Alex MacNicoll) and father Bill (Frank Grillo) end up in a struggle while tracking down immigrants crossing the border that they problematically deem as drug runners among other things. In this situation, it’s a multi-generational family consisting of a green card-carrying father named Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez) helping his mother and son cross into America. The working-class ranchers don’t see it that way, and tragedy strikes with a son on each side of the family shot, although in Gustavo’s case the bullet wound piercing his child is fatal.
Texas Ranger Ramirez (George Lopez, noticeably miscast and unable to explore the moral dilemma his character faces as an American officer of the law dealing with this sad situation, treating pretty much every single one of his scenes going about duty as usual) soon arrives to separate the families and take everyone into custody. This springs Jackson on the run into Mexico where, as a shock to no one, he discovers it’s not so bad after all and must question everything his upbringing has taught him. It’s also important to note that No Man’s Land does have a Mexican co-writer in David Barraza, but throughout the trajectory of the narrative it’s clear he was always a secondary writer as the story, despite wanting to juxtapose these two families, is always about Jackson. The Mexican characters are reduced to a revenge arc amidst their grieving, receiving next to no characterization or growth compared to the subsequent adventures of Jackson inside Mexico.
And while white privilege is a very real thing basically wherever white people go, it becomes simultaneously annoying and phony watching Jackson stumble into good fortune, whether it be a job ranching for a Mexican family, an attractive woman taking him to parties, or breaking in a horse inside the aforementioned family has tried to do for years with no luck. He even encourages a young Mexican boy to seriously engage himself with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aboard the bus, slowly familiarizing himself with a culture and lifestyle that mirrors his own, just on opposite ends of the border.
Just as the Mexican characters are window-dressing for a story about white prejudice redemption, the Mexican writer might as well just be there for the sake of inclusivity. A more eye-opening contrast might have been yielded from having Conor Allyn direct the entire script from David Barraza, perhaps forcing the two to greater collaborate on the overall message while strengthening both groups of characters. In the end, No Man’s Land is more like No Mexican’s Movie, squandering every possible contribution there is for them to make to it. More frustratingly, it just makes time for scenes with Jackson’s unlikable family that don’t care about the loss of child life, but rather ensuring Jackson is not punished. Focusing on just Jackson, even his journey to enlightenment is not that interesting either, anchored by contrivances and clichés despite the solid performance from Jake Allyn. The story itself is fine, it’s just a shame we only get one side of it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com