Neeson stars as breeder Jim Hanson, a marine and decorated Vietnam War veteran who leads a quiet life in southern Arizona along the Mexican border. It has been a year since his wife died of cancer and he spends his days with his loyal dog, Jackson, patrolling the property he risks losing to the bank. At the start of the film, he is seen driving down dusty roads in his van with his mounted shotgun as the setting sun bathes the desert landscape in a warm glow. An American flag flies in the foreground as he approaches his modest home. Cinematographer Mark Patten films this patriotic image as if it were a commercial for Chevy trucks – all that’s missing is Bob Seger singing “Like a Rock”.
But Jim’s peace is shattered when a mother and son enter the United States from Mexico through a section of fence that borders his land. They are on the run from vicious members of the cartel, and when the mother is shot, Jim accepts his last wish to take care of his teenage boy, Miguel (Jacob Perez). Interestingly, Jim takes no political position on whether they should have entered the country this way; always pragmatic, he is more concerned with the prospect of dealing with the corpses on his property when immigrants succumb to the arduous journey.
The kid is understandably shaken into stunned silence, but a Chicago address scribbled on a strip of paper dictates where Jim must take him to reunite him with his family. Somehow Jim still doesn’t speak Spanish after years of living along the Mexican border – literally the extent of his vocabulary is “familia” and “comida” – which seems to both improbable and irresponsible. Instead, he speaks to the boy in frustrated and over-the-top English and reluctantly accepts the trip, believing that the backpack full of money the mother gave him might help him pay off his debts.