Pros: Excellent characters, interesting situations, avoids tendency to delve deeply into politics.
Cons: Bogs down two-thirds of the way through.
My interest in No Man's Land stemmed largely from the fact that I recently visited Bosnia only to return home intrigued by the dynamics of the recent conflict there. I worked with Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks while I was visiting...and still felt undercurrents of resentment. I heard numerous first-hand accounts regarding the war as well as opinions regarding the United Nations. The opinions were as diverse as the people. I found Bosnia to be a friendly welcoming country, but the scars of war are still visible. This film explored some of those issues from an interesting context.
During the conflict, the Serbs held the high ground. They shelled Sarajevo from the hilltops while snipers had denizens of that city running for cover. Yet the Serbs met resistance at the very "gates" of the city that was unexpected. No Man's Land takes place in the hills, where the Serbs and Bosniaks are squared off against each other across a pastoral landscape. A disused booby-trapped trench lies between the two front-lines. Replacement troops from the city head out to relieve the troops already positioned on the lines. They move under the cover of darkness to avoid detection from the Serbian lines.
As the morning sun sheds light across the hillside, the replacement troops wake up to realize they are past the line of demarcation in the middle of the DMZ. As they realize their mistake, the Serbs detect their movement and open fire. One survivor (Ciki, played by Branko Djuric) finds his way to cover in the abandoned trench. Following the firefight, a rookie bookish Serbian soldier (Nino, played by Rene Bitorajac) is escorted into the DMZ to booby trap the bodies. In the process, Nino and Ciki become engaged in a standoff inside the trench. As both sides realize that they have a fighter stuck in the DMZ, the United Nations is called in to mediate. The media catches wind of the incident and further complicates the situation. The situation leads to a comedy of errors and tragic decisions that might be more accurate than anyone would want to admit.
No Man's Land creates an interesting standoff that allows an opportunity to explore the individual perspectives on the war, the broader issues underlying the war and the politically paralyzed response of the United Nations. The concept was brilliant in the ability to bring together two opposing soldiers in a very intimate setting to gain individual perspective. The film does not make judgments in this arena. However, the writing is less kind to the United Nations leadership which is exposed as bureaucratic and impersonal. The failures of the UN exacerbate the problem which adds some drama to the plot. The concept is well written with excellent dialogue.
My main issue with No Man's Land was that it felt tedious. Although contrived, the situation still held my interest. What irritated me was the sluggish pacing which bogged down. It felt like the film itself was taking cover in the trench. Although the dynamics were interesting, the film hit stretches that were boring. Once the viewpoints are explored, you hit a point where you are not covering any new ground. With the arrival of the UN and media, it seems like things would pick up, but they really felt bogged down. I cannot put my finger on the failure, but the film started to lose my interest at that point. No Man's Land finishes strong after the boring stretch.
The cinematography in No Man's Land was excellent. There were some low tech special effects that did not require a great deal of elaboration. The sets were tastefully constructed and set against a beautiful backdrop. The Slovenian landscape provided an excellent substitute for Bosnia and Herzogovina. The setting provided a realistic military feel.
No Man's Land is yet another war movie unfairly saddled with an R rating. The rating is based solely on the war violence and strong language. There is a shooting scene near the start of the film that contains a brief amount of blood. There are a couple of subsequent shooting scenes, but as a whole, the film does not contain much violence. This film contains far less violence start to finish than the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan. So, all R Ratings are not created equal. This film would be fine for any age that plays your average GTA or other RPG-type shooter game.
I enjoyed No Man's Land but felt like the film lost its way somewhere in the second half. The strong characters and interesting interaction and role reversals added dimension to the plot. Yet the period of the film that floundered ruined the experience for me. I would love to give this film four or five stars, but find myself disappointed in the missed opportunity midway through the film. For that reason, I would lower my rating to three stars out of five.