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Even in his pathetic last days, Donald Trump found time to take a trip to the Texas border to check on his wall. His journey only confirms the relevance of the new IFC movie, No Man’s Land, which examines some of the human consequences of the divisiveness regarding immigration. The film tells a simple but poignant story of two families caught up in this conflict. The making of the movie was also something of a family affair. Conor Allyn directed, and the script was written by his brother, Jake Allyn (with some help from co-writer David Barraza). Jake also stars in the picture. The Allyn brothers grew up in Texas so understood the issues addressed, and they hoped to contribute to ongoing dialogue that is unlikely to be silenced any time soon.
The film opens with a shot of ants crawling over a dry terrain. Film buffs will immediately get the reference to Sam Peckinpah’s landmark Western The Wild Bunch, another story of outlaws forced to seek refuge south of the border. In addition to its social commentary, the Allyn brothers clearly wanted to place their movie within the Western genre. (The fact that the hero has a horse named Sundance is another tipoff.) And indeed, one of the film’s strengths — another homage to the Western genre — is the striking cinematography of both Texan and Mexican locales.
Release date: Jan 22, 2021
The film begins in the no-man’s-land of the title, an area between the Rio Grande and border walls and fences. The Greer family has a ranch there, and they are disdainful of immigrants who use their land to try to cross from Mexico to the United States. As tensions rise, an illegal crossing one night leads to a confrontation that results in the shooting of one of the family’s sons and the fatal shooting of a young Mexican boy. The boy’s killer, Jackson (Jake Allyn), decides to flee across the Rio Grande, where he has a variety of encounters with Mexicans that complicate the prejudices ingrained in him. At the same time, the father of the murdered Mexican boy pursues Jackson to take his revenge.
The rapprochement that occurs at the end of the film is not exactly a surprise, and there are contrivances, like Jackson’s arrival in the city of Guanajuato just as his victim’s funeral is about to take place. But strong performances and astute direction help to compensate for simplifications in the script. Allyn is an engaging camera presence, and he underplays effectively. Some of the other performances are even stronger. Veteran George Lopez, playing a Texas Ranger who speaks no Spanish, gives an enormously engaging performance. Jorge A. Jimenez as the father of the murdered boy seethes with believable anger and anguish. As the villainous coyote who helped to provoke the shootout, Andres Delgado makes a chilling antagonist. The scene when he stops the bus carrying Jackson and threatens the passengers is the suspenseful highlight of the film.
Ironically, it’s the white characters back in Texas who have the sketchiest roles. Frank Grillo and Andie MacDowell as the parents are both appealing, but they haven’t been given enough to do. One scene in which McDowell recalls a time of more harmony between Texans and Mexicans, before immigration issues became so politicized, suggests some dramatic possibilities that are left unexplored.
Cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramirez (who also shot the recent gay romance I Carry You With Me) makes an important contribution in capturing the contrasting desolation and warmth of the varied Mexican locations. The haunting score by Will Blair, Brooke Blair and Andrea Gonzalez Caballero adds to the film’s impact. The movie probably runs on a little too long considering the lack of complexity in the script, but it achieves moments of pathos that speak eloquently to our present mood of discord, tempered with a tentative hope of reconciliation.
Cast: Jake Allyn, Frank Grillo, Andie MacDowell, George Lopez, Jorge A. Jimenez, Andres Delgado, Alex MacNicoll, Ofelia Medina, Esmeralda Pimentel
Director: Conor Allyn
Screenwriters: Jake Allyn, David Barraza
Producers: Rob Allyn, Conor Allyn, Jake Allyn, Victor Almeida, Joel Shapiro
Executive producers: Frank Grillo, Patricia Almeida, Sylvia Almeida, Ana Lucia Davila, Federico Haller, Sergio Mares, Eduardo Najera, Simon Fawcett, Araceli Velazquez, David Barraza, Luke Daniels, Alan Pao
Director of photography: Juan Pablo Ramirez
Production designer: Liz Medrano Freeman
Costume designer: Barbara Gonzalez Monsreal
Editors: Curtiss Clayton, Christine Park
Music: Will Blair, Brooke Blair, Andrea Gonzalez Caballero
PG-13, 115 minutes
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