The title takes its name from the section of land that is north of the Rio Grande but south of the border fence. This is where Jackson Greer and his Allyn family farm. A talented pitcher, Jackson is scouted by the New York Yankees for a possible minor league baseball contract, which his parents (Grillo and MacDowell) see as his ticket to a prosperous future.
A confrontation along the border, however, jeopardizes this exciting prospect. While patrolling their property, Jackson, his father, and older brother (Alex MacNicoll) discover a group of Mexican immigrants attempting to enter the United States in the middle of the night. Their leader is Gustavo (Jorge A. Jimenez), who functions not as a mercenary coyote, but as a kind-hearted shepherd trying to help his fellow churchmen. Tensions erupt in the dark and Jackson accidentally shoots and kills Gustavo’s teenage son Fernando (Alessio Valentini). As his father tries to take the blame and the local Texas Ranger (Lopez) becomes suspicious, Jackson jumps on his horse and crosses the river in panic.
And so we have a reverse immigration story, which feels both new and similar to classic westerns – stories of desperate men in danger seeking refuge south of the border. It’s a fascinating story to tell at this precise point in our country’s history, as so much bigotry and cruelty is inflicted on families trying to find their way here in search of a better life. But for someone who grew up in this region, Jackson surprisingly ignores Mexican culture. Like Liam Neeson’s character in last week’s “The Marksman,” which has a ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border, Jackson has managed to avoid learning Spanish, which is just plain weird.
Once he penetrates deeper into Mexico, Jackson enjoys the tranquil beauty of some striking desert views (the work of cinematographer Juan Pablo Ramirez). But he also takes his time going from place to place in search of peace and forgiveness, which undermines the film of the much-needed suspense. And with the exception of a coyote character who is cartoonish in his wickedness, every person he meets is holy in their kindness and generosity – which is an oversimplification in the opposite direction of the stereotypical way the characters Mexicans are too often portrayed in movies and television. As he ventures to Fernando’s hometown, Guanajuato, in the heart of central Mexico, he meets a poor and elderly couple sharing their meal with him and a single mother and young son on a bus, to whom he bed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the film’s most awkward and artificial connection. But a brief stop at a posh horse ranch is compelling, as it allows Jackson to show off his natural abilities as a trainer. This stretch gives Allyn a chance to reveal real personality to her character, and he finds an engaging rhythm that’s elusive elsewhere, suggests the best movie that could have been.