No Man’s Land
Though billed as a contemporary Western thriller, the Conor Allyn-directed No Man’s Land is more of a moral family drama. The action begins on the Greer ranch, which is situated between the Rio Grande and the checkpoints along the border. Patriarch Bill (Frank Grillo) “helps” patrol forces by occasionally rounding up immigrants who cross his ranch to get to the US. On this fateful evening, his son Jackson (Jake Allyn) accidentally kills a young boy (Alessio Valentini), and, racked with guilt at his father taking the blame for it and fear of imprisonment, he decides to flee across the border to Mexico on his horse Sundance.
From there, the narrative switches between either side of the borderline as both families struggle to deal with their losses. This family-focused feel extends to the production team, too: Conor and Jake work with their father, Rob Allyn, alongside Joel Shapiro as part of the production team. In fact, Jake also has a hand in the scriptwriting with David Barraza Ibañez. Unfortunately, this collaborative process has generated a thinly veiled didactic script that leaves the viewer with an awkward feeling on more than one occasion.
The implausible climax can be overlooked (Jackson is reacquainted with the victim’s father Gustavo – Jorge A Jimenez – at his funeral in Guanajuato, though the city boasts a population of 195,000); it is, however, more difficult to ignore the upright dialogue from the reputable characters, which seems to assume the audience is as ignorant as some of the characters. This, combined with the fact that some scenes are overly long, while others are unnecessarily cursory, jars the audience out of fully engaging.
Despite this overbearing issue, the heart of the film is in the right place, and that is supported by some of its tender and more humorous moments. Some of these come from the warmth and hospitality bestowed on Jackson by various Mexican families, others, touchingly, from the relationship between Sundance and Jackson. The horse actor, Tapatío, is so marvellously expressive that one wishes he and Allyn were given more screen time, such is their chemistry.
There is no doubt that US-Mexico relations are an important issue to portray, not least because of the xenophobic sentiments that have been stirred up recently. That said, tackling the subject requires a deft touch that, unfortunately, this heavy-handed production lacks.
No Man’s Land is released digitally on demand on 31st May 2021.
Watch the trailer for No Man’s Land here: