Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of finishing post and releasing my 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week 118: No Man’s Land
This month, I’m looking at “Modern Westerns”. I was in the middle of making a contemporary take on the Western genre called Treasure Valley in Idaho when our lead actor Jay Pickett had a heart attack and died. The production is suspended because of this tragedy but I am continuing to look at modern Westerns for the next couple weeks.
No Man’s Land is an admirable attempt at making a “modern western”. It’s interesting to note that if the open range conflict was the predominant topic of classic westerns, the border conflict takes over in our contemporary versions. A film like Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada perfects this. Brad Johnson’s Across the Line gets close. Sadly, No Man’s Land shows a lot of promise but falls short.
Early scenes are quite effective, especially when the filmmakers play with traditional Western scenes in a modern context like the Sheriff (played wonderfully by George Lopez) chasing lead Jake Allyn, one in a truck and the other on horseback. But the film tosses aside its more Western elements in the second half, falling into a convoluted plot with too many characters.
Some of the casting is off too. It’s great to see MacDowell but she’s not given enough. Frank Grillo, on the other hand, is an actor I like but does not fit the bill as a Texas rancher at all. He belongs in a more urban setting. Allyn is quite good and this family affair (written by him and directed by another AllyN) is clearly a vehicle to show his talent. I hope they make more films and learn from this one.
In terms of fitting my criteria as a modern Western, this movie actually has all five of the elements I’ve listed:
1. Explores Western culture and lifestyle in a modern context.
2. Story revolves around justice and injustice in a significant way, especially involving one or more outlaws and a figure of authority/law enforcement.
3. Includes the riding of horses.
4. The setting must be in the West or a similar frontier-like location.
5. Characters appear in some modern variation of the traditional Western wardrobe.
Bought on Amazon.