Review: Across the Border and Back Again, No Real Lessons in No Man’s Land

In a work that has a few saving graces but doesn’t quite come together as a cohesive unit, No Man’s Land comes courtesy of director Conor Allyn, whose brother Jake Allyn stars and co-wrote the film with David Barraza. The story concerns a Texas family, led by Bill Greer (Frank Grillo), whose ranch sits along the border to Mexico, so he sees immigrants crossing the Rio Grande and going through his property on an alarmingly regular basis. Jake Allyn plays older son Jackson, who has the potential to be a professional baseball player, even though he’s inclined to continue on running the ranch with his father, brother Lucas (Alex MacNicoll), and their mother Monica (Andie MacDowell). But his family refuses to even entertain the idea, wanting him to better himself.

No Man's Land Image courtesy of IFC Films

One night as the family patrols their property, Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez) leads his teenage son across the border, and Jackson panics when the boy moves suddenly while under their capture, shooting and killing him. Although Bill takes the blame for the shooting, the investigating ranger (George Lopez) figures out quickly that Jackson was the real shooter. So Jackson escapes on his horse into Mexico, wracked with guilt and not really caring what happens to him. Looking for revenge, Gustavo wants to find Jackson before the law or his own father does, so an all out hunt is under way.

I'm fairly certain the purpose of No Man’s Land is for Jackson to discover the beauty of Mexico and realize that all of his preconceived notions about the people there are wrong. The only problem with this concept is that it’s never really established that he harbors those feelings about Mexicans in the first place. Sure, he and his family don’t like immigrants using their property as a route into America, but there’s no real sense that they dislike Mexicans or the nation they come from. When Jackson falls in with a rich Mexican rancher after proving he can handle and break horses, he’s taken in as a member of the family and treated well; there’s even a hint of a potential romance between him and the rancher’s daughter (Esmeralda Pimentel). But even that gig doesn’t pan out as Jackson’s whereabouts are discovered and he’s forced to make his way back to America eventually.

There’s a strange little moment when he’s en route to the United States on a bus where he befriends a Mexican woman and her young daughter, traveling to America as tourists. Jackson is somewhat surprised that there are actual Mexicans who travel back and forth into America legally, with passports and everything, and aren’t attempting to immigrate illegally. It’s a ridiculous moment that attempts to show Jackson becoming enlightened, but it basically makes him look like a big dummy. The film’s final showdown between Jackson and Gustavo, set immediately after the son’s funeral, isn’t exactly riveting or believable, and a big reason for its failure is that Jake Allyn isn’t that strong an actor, so playing a person shaken to the core with guilt doesn’t really play convincingly.

Still, No Man’s Land is a closer call to something passable than I would have expected  thanks to stronger performances from Jimenez and Grillo, as fathers each grieving for their lost sons in different ways. I’ve never been much of a George Lopez fan, but he holds his own here, and none of the film’s flaws are a result of him being out of his depth. In the end, the movie is both knowing and naive about aspects on both sides of border life. The film is beautifully shot and takes full advantage of the desert landscapes, but ultimately it doesn’t quite get where it clearly wants to go, concluding with an ending I found weirdly dull.

The film is now available via VOD.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.