February 27, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Conor Allyn
Some language in Spanish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and Mexico, the dramatic film “No Man’s Land” features a cast of white and Latino people representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: A white teenage son of a Texas rancher accidentally shoots and kills a Mexican immigrant boy and flees to Mexico as a fugitive, while a Texas Ranger who’s a Mexican American goes in hot pursuit to capture him.
Culture Audience: “No Man’s Land” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching idiotic “chase movies” that have an offensive tone of white supremacy.
There’s a cliché that says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That saying could apply to the atrocious dramatic film “No Man’s Land.” The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” say the movie is their way of trying to heal racial rifts among white Americans and Mexican Latinos, in a political climate where the Mexican/U.S. border wall has been used as a controversial symbol of people’s views on immigration in the United States.
If the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers had intentions of healing the harm done by racism, it didn’t work with this movie. In fact, “No Man’s Land” is tone-deaf schlock that actually has more than a whiff of white supremacy and racist beliefs. The film’s Mexican characters are written as expendable, not very smart, and pawns for whatever the white characters want, while the white characters are elevated as having more valuable lives, being more intelligent, and more deserving of redemption.
“No Man’s Land” was directed by Conor Allyn and written by his younger brother Jake Allyn (one of the stars of the movie) and David Barraza. As explained in the movie’s prologue, the movie’s title is named after the No Man’s Land area that’s the gap between the Texas border fences and the Mexican land that’s north of the Rio Grande. The movie takes place in Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas.
Conor Allyn made a very pretentious director’s statement in the “No Man’s Land” production notes. The statement reads in part: “In a time of great fear, we wanted to make a film about hope. The world is growing apart. Xenophobia and prejudice are abundant, millions clamor for walls to divide, yet there is still time to unite. But first we must recognize the borders within ourselves. And cross it.”
Conor Allyn continues in the statement: “But change does not come without pain. Our characters have to experience, and inflict, enormous pain in order to make a transformation. And in doing so, they are able to cross that border within themselves. And we hope that the audience does the same.”
The characters might inflict some pain on each other, but viewers of “No Man’s Land” will have some pain inflicted on them if they have to sit through this horrible onslaught of bad moviemaking. Be prepared to possibly have some brain cells damaged by the stupidity of it all. It’s not just that the filmmakers ineptly mishandled racism issues in this movie, but it’s also a terrible chase movie with insipid and unrealistic scenes.
In “No Man’s Land,” Jake Allyn portrays Jackson Greer, who lives with his family on a Texas ranch in an unnamed city that’s near the Mexican border. Jackson is in his late teens and is about to enroll in an unnamed New York City college on a baseball scholarship. Jackson’s rancher father Bill Greer (played by Frank Grillo) is more excited than Jackson is about Jackson getting a college education and possibly becoming a baseball star.
Jackson would rather skip college and continue to work on the ranch. In a conversation between Jackson and Bill in Bill’s truck, the father comments to the son about this opportunity to go to college: “You go give it a shot. If it don’t work out, it don’t work out.” Bill’s incorrect grammar is meant to show that he’s a working-class guy who doesn’t care about speaking proper English.
The other members of the Greer family who live on the ranch are Bill’s wife Monica Greer (played by Andie MacDowell) and their younger son Lucas Greer (played by Alex MacNicoll), who’s close to the same age as Jackson. In their spare time, Bill and his sons patrol the borders of their ranch to try and chase off immigrants and drug smugglers who illegally cross the border. These illegal treks usually happen at night.
Meanwhile, members of a family in Mexico are preparing to make this illegal crossing into the United States. Gustavo Almeida (played by Jorge A. Jimenez) is a widower who has a green card (resident alien documentation) to legally work in the United States. However, Gustavo’s son Fernando (played by Alessio Valentini), who’s about 13 or 14 years old, was denied immigration permission to live in the U.S. with Gustavo.
Gustavo has temporarily returned to Mexico to illegally bring Fernando into the United Sates. About two or three local men they know from Mexico are also on this trek to cross the border with Gustavo and Fernando. Gustavo’s religious mother Lupe (played by Ofelia Medina) is staying behind in Mexico, but she wishes them luck, and she gives Fernando some cash to take with him.
Gustavo, Fernando and the other men cross the border and end up on the Greer family’s property. Bill, Jackson and Lucas are out patrolling that night with their rifles. And, of course, things go horribly wrong.
Bill orders the men to stop because they’re trespassing. Because most of the Mexican men don’t speak English and the Greer men don’t speak Spanish, there’s a language barrier. But there’s no mistaking what the guns are for and Bill’s tone of voice. Gustavo, who speaks some English, raises his hands and tells the Greers that the immigrants don’t want any trouble.
Some of the immigrant men try to ignore Bill and keep going. But with Bill leading the way, he and his sons confront the men. One the immigrants pulls out a switchblade knife. A scuffle ensues where one of the immigrant men gets in a struggle with Bill over his rifle. A shot is fired, and Lucas accidentally gets hit. Meanwhile, a panicked Jackson rushes to his family’s defense and shoots his rifle. The bullet hits Fernando in the back, and he is killed instantly.
During this chaos, Bill has rushed to Lucas’ side, while Gustavo has rushed to Fernando’s side. In a rage, Bill threatens to shoot all of the immigrants if they don’t leave his property. Gustavo begs to stay with Fernando, but he can also tell that Bill is so angry that the Mexican immigrants will be blamed for everything and will probably get arrested. And so, a heartbroken Gustavo leaves with the other men and they go back to Mexico. Lucas is still alive, and he’s taken to a hospital for surgery.
The Texas Ranger who’s in charge of the investigation is named Ramirez (played by George Lopez), and the “No Man’s Land” filmmakers didn’t bother to give this character a first name or a realistic storyline. Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have any law enforcement partners with him during most of the time when he investigates this serious crime. Throughout the entire movie, Ranger Ramirez is the only Texas Ranger in Mexico who’s pursuing this case that could lead to charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Ranger Ramirez is immediately suspicious of Bill’s story that Bill was the one who accidentally shot Fernando in self-defense during the scuffle. Bill is the registered owner of all the guns in this incident, but the facts don’t match up with Bill’s story. Bill claims that he was fighting with one of the immigrants over the gun that ended up shooting Bill’s son Lucas, while Fernando was shot seconds later by another gun. Someone else had to have been holding that other gun that shot Fernando. And Ranger Ramirez instinctively knows the shooter couldn’t have been Bill.
Bill wants to cover up for Jackson because he doesn’t want this crime to ruin Jackson’s promising future. However, Jackson has a guilty conscience. (He’s shown wailing by himself somewhere in the Texas Rangers station while his father is being questioned.) And, as guilty people often do, Jackson (on horseback) goes back to the crime scene.
At the crime scene in the remote desert field, Jackson finds Fernando’s wallet. And just who happens to show up right then and there? Ranger Ramirez, of course, who was presumably following Jackson. Jackson can’t take the guilt anymore and he confesses to Ranger Ramirez that he was the one who shot Fernando.
Instead of allowing himself to be arrested, Jackson panics and flees on his horse, with Ranger Ramirez in pursuit in his squad car. Jackson is able to lose Ranger Ramirez when they reach a creek that Ranger Ramirez can’t cross on foot or by car, but Jackson can cross by horseback. Jackson eventually crosses the border to Mexico. All he has are his cell phone, the clothes he’s wearing, his wallet, his horse and Fernando’s wallet. And he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish.
It’s either lazy screenwriting or the filmmakers’ way of showing that Ranger Ramirez doesn’t have much clout, because he’s the only Texas Ranger shown chasing Jackson, a fugitive who’s wanted for suspected murder or manslaughter. Jackson could be armed and dangerous, but the filmmakers want to make it look like the Texas Rangers are willing to give Jackson a lot of leeway for this felony, because they’ve only sent one Ranger to be in pursuit of him. And the pursuer happens to be Latino. There are some scenes where Ranger Ramirez has to do some running on foot when he’s clearly out of shape, which only highlight how the filmmakers want to make this Latino cop character look like a buffoon without any backup.
The “No Man’s Land” filmmakers try to make it look like they’re not playing into racial stereotypes of Mexican Americans, in an interrogation scene where Bill incorrectly assumes that Ranger Ramirez can speak Spanish. Ranger Ramirez defensively declares that he’s an American too and he doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. Therefore, the filmmakers have made Ranger Ramirez look even more inept, as someone who can’t speak Spanish when he goes to Mexico as the lone pursuer of Jackson.
There’s more racial privilege/condescension on display, when Ranger Ramirez tries to find out from Bill and Monica where Jackson could have gone after Jackson has fled from being arrested. And these self-righteous parents end up getting angry at Ranger Ramirez for letting Jackson escape into “dangerous” Mexico. These parents, who come across as racists, seem more worried about Jackson getting hurt by Mexicans while he’s evading arrest than they are about the fact that their son Jackson is the one who’s committed a fatal crime, and he’s breaking the law even more by becoming a fugitive.
Needless to say, this dimwitted movie doesn’t even address that Bill should be in trouble for lying to law enforcement. Bill’s false confession also impeded the investigation, which is another crime. But those crimes are ignored, because in “No Man’s Land,” the white characters are the ones the filmmakers want the audience to root for to be forgiven the most.
Jackson’s parents understandably want the man who accidentally shot Lucas to be arrested, but they (and this movie) expect Jackson, who committed a worse crime of killing someone else, to be shown more mercy. Lucas was shot, but he wasn’t killed. And Jackson’s parents don’t seem to care that a family lost an innocent child because the child’s life was taken by Jackson, who’s alive and well.
The filmmakers give a lot of attention to the Greer family and tell very little about the Almeida family. Viewers never find out what Fernando’s hopes and dreams were or anything substantial about Gustavo and his experiences as a legal Mexican immigrant in the United Sates. There are expected scenes of Gustavo grieving over Fernando’s death, but no further insight into their lives.
By contrast, there’s a lot of concern in the movie over how Jackson’s crime of killing Fernando will negatively affect Jackson’s future and the Greer family’s reputation. The entire “chase” part of the movie puts an emphasis on Jackson feeling out of his comfort zone because he’s hiding out in a country where he doesn’t know the language, even though he’s an outlaw of his own free will. The filmmakers make Jackson’s thoughts and needs more important than any of the Mexicans’ thoughts and needs. It’s a racist imbalance that makes the Mexican characters look like hollow plot devices that serve the main story of how Jackson is going to get out of his self-made predicament.
When Ranger Ramirez gets to Mexico, the movie makes some vague references to Ranger Ramirez enlisting the help of Mexican federales to try to find Jackson, as well as the man who shot Lucas. But these federales are barely seen in the movie and certainly aren’t written as important characters. It’s an example of how the filmmakers marginalize Mexican law enforcement throughout the entire movie. Ranger Ramirez is the only Latino person in the movie who has a significant role as law enforcement, and he’s set up to be a character to go after a white guy who’s supposed to be sympathetic.
And the filmmakers literally have Jackson go on what turns out to be a sympathy tour in Mexico. Everywhere that Jackson goes while he’s hiding from the law, he has Mexicans bending over backwards to help him because they feel sorry for him, even though he’s a stranger who has all the signs of someone who’s left somewhere abruptly and is trying to hide from something: He’s new to the area and homeless; he has no possessions except his horse and a few personal items; and he doesn’t talk about his background.
Jackson doesn’t even know what city he’s in for most of the time he’s in Mexico. He doesn’t bother to use a map, but he has all these friendly Mexicans willing to help him when he wants to hide out somewhere and get advice on where to go next. It’s the movie’s way of saying that a good-looking American white guy who’s a fugitive hiding in Mexico and who doesn’t know Spanish should have it this easy, just because he’s a good-looking American white guy.
That’s what happens when Jackson, who’s on horseback on a nearly deserted road, encounters a truck with a small family of ranchers are who heading back to their home. Even though they know nothing about him, Jackson quickly convinces them on the spot to hire him to work on their ranch and give him and his horse a place to stay. The family happens to have a truck that is already equipped to transport a horse in the back of the truck. Before they drive back to the family’s ranch, Jackson (showing his privileged attitude) acts a little surprised and embarrassed when they tell him that he has to stay in the back of the truck with the horse because there’s no room for Jackson in the front.
The family has two children in their late teens or early 20s: Miguel (played by Iván Aragón) and Victoria (played by Esmeralda Pimentel), who were in the truck when Jackson first met them. It should come as no surprise that Victoria is immediately attracted to Jackson, who acts attracted to her too. But it’s hard to tell how much of Jackson’s flirtation with Victoria is real and how much is fake, since he’s using this family while he hides from the law. Victoria suspects that Jackson has something major to hide, but she goes out of her way to help Jackson, even going as far as giving him cash.
Jackson also has some other “too good to be true” encounters with Mexicans who automatically trust him without knowing anything about him. There’s an elderly couple named Juan (played by Carlos Remolina) and Rosa (played by Julieta Ortiz), who immediately let him stay in their home. They don’t ask Jackson any questions (very unrealistic), and he would’ve stayed longer with them but his time with this gullible couple is interrupted.
And when Jackson is on a bus, he strikes up a conversation with a mother sitting nearby who’s reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to her son, who’s about 7 or 8 years old. The boy thinks the book is boring, until Jackson lectures him about how “Huckleberry Finn” is a classic adventure and asks the boy if he’s gotten to the best parts of the book that talk about the royal characters. The boy says no.
And the next thing you know, the kid is sitting next to Jackson with his head leaning on Jackson’s arm, as Jackson reads the book to him like a friendly neighborhood schoolteacher. The cloying parts of this movie are just beyond laughable. If the filmmakers had more time in this scene, they might have made Jackson charm his way into letting the boy’s mother give Jackson a place to stay too.
Since this movie wants to make Mexicans look inferior to Jackson, there’s a silly subplot about a small-time Mexican criminal named Luis (played by Andrés Delgado), who’s also chasing after Jackson for revenge. Luis, who has a peroxide-blonde faux hawk hairstyle, looks more like a scrawny skater than a supposedly fearsome leader of a gang of hoodlums.
Luis and his sleazy friends live in a run-down trailer area somewhere in the Mexican desert. Apparently, one of the ways they make money is by ripping off unsuspecting tourists by operating a small convenience stand that sells overpriced food and drinks. When Jackson first crosses the border into Mexico, he tries to buy some water from the stand, but then refuses when he sees that he’s being overcharged.
Luis and his gang then try to steal Jackson’s horse, but Jackson is able to fight them off and flee with the horse. Somehow, Luis finds out Jackson is the same guy who’s responsible for killing the son of a local man named Gustavo. Yes, it’s the same Gustavo, the father of the dead Fernando. Luis goes to a grieving Gustavo and offers his services to kill Jackson. Gustavo and Luis then team up to hunt down Jackson and get revenge.
The movie gets even dumber from then on, as Jackson has not only law enforcement chasing after him, but also Gustavo and Luis. There are a few instances where Ranger Ramirez is close to capturing Jackson, but Jackson outsmarts Ranger Ramirez, because the filmmakers are intent on making Ranger Ramirez look like an incompetent fool. Just like Ranger Ramirez, Luis could easily get the help of his cronies to outnumber Jackson, but he doesn’t do that, because the filmmakers don’t want the Mexicans to be smarter than the white Americans in this movie.
The movie’s big climactic showdown is extremely annoying and an insult to viewers’ intelligence. And when viewers find out how much prison time that Jackson would be facing if he’s caught, it’s further proof of racial inequalities in the U.S. criminal justice system. The filmmakers of “No Man’s Land” are trying to pretend that this movie can help heal these racial divides, but this reprehensible movie just fans the flames of bigotry even more by glorifying “white American privilege” and exploiting systemic racism for a cash grab.
IFC Films released “No Man’s Land” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 22, 2021.