“Sometimes you need to close your eyes and start over to see clearly.”
No Man’s Land, from director Conor Allyn, is at one level a story about borders, but at a deeper level it is about the importance of welcoming the stranger in our midst.
The Greer family has a small cattle ranch along the Rio Grande, but south of the border wall. They have narcos, rustlers, and immigrants who come across their land. The father Bill (Frank Grillo) has to take his passport just to go to the hardware store. Son Jackson (Jake Allyn, who also wrote the script) is a promising pitcher preparing for a tryout with the Yankees.
One night, hearing activity outside, Bill and his two sons go out with weapons, worried about losing cattle. Instead it is a small group of people looking to enter the US illegally, led by Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez) who is bringing his son to live with him in the US. In the chaos of the confrontation, Jackson’s brother is stabbed and Jackson shoots and kills Gustavo’s son. Bill seeks to take the blame, claiming self-defense, but the Texas Ranger (George Lopez) investigating sees through it. When he goes to talk with Jackson, Jackson crosses the river into Mexico.
Jackson is dealing with the guilt of taking the boy’s life. When Jackson found the boy’s wallet, it had a picture of the boy in his baseball uniform. Clearly, Jackson understands that they held things in common. But Gustavo is dealing with anger and seeks revenge. Jackson finds himself trying to avoid both the law and Gustavo. But he also wants to go to the boy’s hometown to seek forgiveness and redemption. Along the way he encounters those who would take advantage of him, as well as those who will take him in.
Jackson learns that there is much more to Mexico than he has known. Most importantly he discovers that there are people who welcome him, even though they don’t know him and he cannot speak their language. As a stranger he is often totally at the mercy of the people he meets. And he meets some very welcoming people.
Meanwhile back in Texas, his mother (Andie MacDowell) reminds Bill of the times they would take food and water to the river for those coming across. He responds, “It’s different now”, to which she responds, “but we’re different.” The contrast of the welcome Jackson finds and his parents’ choice to no longer be welcoming serves to underscore the divide we may have within us about welcoming strangers or turning away.
That same spirit plays out in the storyline between Jackson’s desire for redemption and Gustavo’s seeking revenge. When the face off arrives, Gustavo remembers a lesson he gave his son as they were walking that deadly night. He had his son close his eyes and count to ten. When he opened them, he could see better. For Gustavo, for the Greer family, for the viewers, a pause may give all of us a chance to see more clearly when we think of issues around welcoming the stranger.
Jesus says in Matthew 25: “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” No Man’s Land lives out that teaching.
No Man’s Land is available at select theaters where open and on VOD.