Review: ‘No Man’s Land’: An immigration tale told with empathy and humanity

Jackson (Jake Allyn) in a church in a scene from "No Man's Land."
A hard road with an unknown destination: Jackson (Jake Allyn) goes on an odyssey after a tragedy shatters two families in “No Man’s Land.”
(IFC Films)

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“No Man’s Land” comes out of the blue to comment memorably on the immigration crisis by simply giving human life its due. It’s wise and empathetic and worth a watch.


The film follows two loving families unknowingly on a collision course. One, American ranchers near the border with Mexico, excitedly anticipate an upcoming tryout their strapping, handsome younger son Jackson (Jake Allyn) has with the New York Yankees. The other family is led by Gustavo (Jorge A. Jiménez), who successfully immigrated to the States. In his capacity as a respected member of his church, he returns to Mexico to guide an undocumented group, including his young son, across the border. A tragedy shatters the families and sends them spiraling on paths they wouldn’t have imagined the day before.

Unlike, for instance, “The Marksman,” the other current road drama involving themes of fraught Mexican-American relations, “No Man’s Land” is a remarkably human film. In it, life has value. When a character dies, it’s an earthquake in these families. The aftershocks never stop being felt.

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It’s written by its star, Jake Allyn, directed by his brother Conor and co-produced with their father Rob. They bring telling details from their upbringing in the area and powerfully utilize metaphor. All the performances are strong, from the restrained parental agony of Andie MacDowell and the underrated Frank Grillo to the hellish descent conveyed by Jiménez. George Lopez turns in fine work as an American lawman determined to see justice — actual justice — done.

We have no trouble believing Jake Allyn as the golden boy lost, one who undergoes an odyssey as internal as it is external. Again in contrast to “Marksman,” the characters in “No Man’s Land” are put through the wringer and come out changed.

That’s because, sidestepping partisanship, the film takes empathy as its watchword. Even after the rancher family feels under siege from uninvited migrants crossing through their land, the older brother reminds Jackson of a particular bass they kept reeling in while catch-and-release fishing. You’d think the fish, suffering from the hooks tearing it up inside, would get wise, but it kept coming back, year after year. And why? “Because it was hungry.”


The title refers to an area at the border that effectively belongs to neither country. But its deeper meaning, that such divisions are artificial, is expressed by an exchange between a Mexican mother and Jackson on a bus ride through her country. She reminds him they’re still in “America” (just not the United States of). He shares his father’s oft-repeated slogan that their family doesn’t live in America; they live in Texas. When pressed, he admits he doesn’t know what that means.

There’s also a brief, but effective, moment in an elevator when members of both families, unaware of each other’s identities, are both descending in parallel anguish. The commentary on their shared humanity is inescapable.

'No Man's Land'

Rated: PG-13, for some strong violence and language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Jan. 22, Arena Cinelounge Drive-In, Hollywood; also available on digital and VOD

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