My Stretch of Texas Ground, the story of a brave sheriff who must defend his small town from terrorist threat, finds itself in a precarious position. The title reeks of imperialism and sounds like an alt-right, Christian propaganda film, but if you take the time to watch, you’ll find it has a very humanistic and heartening moral centre. While there’s merit in trying to subvert expectations, the film faces the difficult bind of pissing off conservative audiences who feel “tricked” into watching a liberal-leaning film, and alienating liberal audiences who are fearful of its title. Mostly, My Stretch of Texas Ground is a victim of poor timing; the last thing we need right now is a story promoting the heroism of a white male cop.
Nevertheless, My Stretch of Texas Ground delivers a poignant message about America’s senseless Forever War. For decades, we have unfairly slaughtered the innocent and countless little children who have done nothing to deserve death. Often these sentiments are presented in very stilted dialogue that sounds like quotes from a newspaper article rather than something organically spoken. Nevertheless, it comes from a place of compassion.
The story follows a “radical Islamic terrorist” named Abdul Latif Hassan (Junes Zahdi), who infiltrates a tiny Texas town by sneaking across the Mexican border to assassinate a visiting war-mongering Senator. Along his journey to the Lone Star state, he poses as various people: a Mexican immigrant, North Carolina reporter, rugged Texan. Zahdi’s charismatic flair brings out his character’s swift chameleonic abilities. His emotional monologue at the end of the film revealing all of the atrocities he has witnessed during the war is truly moving.
Abdul invades the “stretch of Texas ground” kept under watch by good ol’ boy, ex-football player-turned Sheriff named Joe (Jeff Weber), the patriarch of a picturesque family: a blonde, ex-cheerleader wife, son, and daughter. But there’s a twist to his All-American persona; he is not as conservatively xenophobic as his friends are. Joe has an even-handed perception of others and a non-judgemental attitude; he does not support the war or assume that all foreigners are evil. It is this pragmatism that puts him in a risky spot when the terrorist plot to kill the Senator unfolds, resulting in an emotional finale between him and Abdul. Weber brings an equal sense of firmness and Southern charm to the role that keeps you fully invested in Joe’s conflict between his beliefs and duties to hearth and home.
There are obvious low-budget constraints seen in the flat lighting and mediocre transitions, but that does not take away from director Erich Kemp and writer Ralph Cinque’s intriguing premise. There’s an exciting tension to Abdul’s well-paced story line that builds to a thrilling climax. His covert mission ends up being more about enlightenment than violence. My Stretch of Texas Ground has a lot of heart. The film could have easily been crassly nationalistic, so it’s refreshing that Kemp and Cinque use their film’s conservative setting and characters to have a hard and thoughtful conversation about racism and the consequences of war, even if the execution is middling.
My Stretch of Texas Ground is available now on Amazon Prime
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.