Directed by Conor Allyn
Written by Jake Allyn and David Barraza
“Walk a mile in my shoes” is a popular cliché when trying to communicate to someone that your experience is unique, and worthy of both sympathy and understanding instead of critique and demeaning. We all have our own lives and experiences, and as much as we try, until we are in that exact circumstance, it’s nearly impossible to fully understand another person. In a country that was recently under a regime of xenophobia, in a country who recently worked to close its southern border, caging immigrants who made their way from Mexico to the United States instead of giving them a fair chance or simply sending them back, it’d be easy to dismiss the level of hardship seen from these immigrants, protecting our own way of life, our own privileges, denying those same freedoms from people that don’t look like us, and don’t talk like us. Conor Allyn’s No Man’s Land attempts to reckon with these themes by focusing on what happens when a white rancher is forced to flee to Mexico and be the illegal alien we as a country have so often cast aside.
Jackson (Jake Allyn) is a promising baseball prospect, throwing a hard fastball and drawing the attention of the New York Yankees. While his father (Frank Grillo), mother (Andie MacDowell) and brother (Alex MacNicoll) see the promise of Jackson escaping their Texas ranch, which lies within the No Man’s Land, between the border fences and the Rio Grande which marks the border between the US and Mexico. Jackson, however, loves his life as a rancher. But one night, after a skirmish with an immigrant family on their land, a young Mexican boy is left dead at the hands of Jackson, causing him to flee from Ramirez (George Lopez), the Texas Ranger hot on his heels. As Jackson ventures into Mexico, he is encountered by friends (Esmerelda Pimentel) and foes (Andres Delgado) alike, trying to make his way to reckon with what he has done and somehow find forgiveness from the boy’s father (Jorge A. Jimenez).
As you might imagine with a film like this, it’s very hit or miss given the themes it hits on. For one, I think the Allyn brothers (Conor the director and Jake the star and screenwriter) do a wonderful job at being sympathetic in their depiction of the characters on the screen. Quite especially, Jackson comes across as well-intentioned. He wants to ranch because he loves to ranch, instead of escaping to make the big bucks as a baseball player, something he does for the favor of his family. He encounters a mother and her son while on a bus in Mexico and shows a big heart, full of caring and acceptance. He accepts a job on a ranch in Mexico where he is literally the one shoveling the shit, willing to work his way up because it’s what he loves to do, and in this case, has to do. But the other side of this coin is that Jackson comes across perhaps as a little too sympathetic. How did he pull the trigger and kill that young boy, albeit accidentally? Why did he pull the trigger? I don’t think the film ever fully reckons with this.
Jake Allyn is very charismatic and genuine in the lead role, and the cast is mostly good around him as well, expect perhaps the rather shallow and caricatured Luis, played by Andres Delgado. And the Allyn’s efficiently communicate Jackson’s experience, and the flipping of the script of a white man living as the outsider in the land of Mexico as opposed to a Mexican immigrant seeing discrimination in America. However, I don’t feel like this perspective, valid as it may be, lands quite as effectively as it wishes. This flipping of the script, while perhaps good natured at heart is teaching the lesson of this experience, still manages to largely ignore the immigrant experience to the United States. This lack of representation is glaring, as well-intentioned as the Allyn’s may be in telling their story the way they chose. It still remains that this is the story of a white man who has an opportunity to make a lot of money playing baseball, but decides to throw it away. What could be more white privilege than that? So while the message may be from the heart, and mostly sympathetic to the immigrant experience, the way its delivered seems blinded by itself, which is where the whole film falls down. So while it has its merits. It has its strong filmmaking elements, No Man’s Land ultimately misses the mark and falls under any close inspection of its values and intentions.