My Stretch of Texas Ground
Review by Mark Schwab
July 7th, 2019
The years continue to go by and yet the after effects of the Iraq war continue to haunt us. Racial and religious tensions are still palpable in the air with "radical Islam" - a passionate trigger word for those who want to rationalize their own prejudices. Because the emotional arena remains charged, it can make for potentially incendiary movie fodder. It was mainly those reasons that I felt slightly queasy when reading the synopsis for MY STRETCH OF TEXAS GROUND for review. Even though the film came up a bit short for me in the end, it was not for the obvious reasons (clearly an indicator for my own prejudice) and I found myself genuinely surprised by some of it.
The film takes place in the present - Trump is President and applying pressure to the Middle East in all his usual ways. A small cabal decides to hire an expert Islamic assassin to take out a hawkish Senator from Texas (they decide on a Senator since the President himself is too difficult to get at) who talks nonstop on pundit shows about the threat from Islam and the need for more troops overseas. The assassin, Abdul Latif Hassan, sneaks in through Mexico and begins tracking the Senator (while leaving bodies in his wake). The only thing standing in his way is Sheriff Joe Haladin and it is inevitable that their paths will cross and it won't be pretty.
Of course, this had the potential to be a complete slog of hate and stereotypes but, shockingly, it attempts a much more complex character study of two men with specific objectives who are determined to see it through no matter what. Screenwriter Ralph Cinque crafts two surprisingly deep characters in Sheriff Joe Haladan and Abdul Latin Hassan and I found myself intrigued by their motivations. In addition, Jeff Weber as Haladan and Junes Zahdi as Hassan are both well-cast and effective - especially Zahdi who, without glorifying him, makes him into an actual human being. He's compelling to watch.
The main problem with MY STRETCH OF TEXAS GROUND is, unfortunately, pretty much everything else surrounding Weber and Zahdi. The supporting performances are simply not up to par, coming off as cliches even though the material was there to work with, which took me out of Cinque's ambitious story. There is also some dodgy sound and a music score that hurts more than helps but those could have been easily overlooked if the cast had been strong enough. The ending is a bit muddled as well in its direction (the geography of a closing gunfight is pretty confusing even after I watched it three times) even though it is a correct and believable one.
I have to give credit to writer Ralph Cinque and director Erich Kemp for attempting a complex political action thriller on an indie budget - this script was different enough and thoughtful enough to warrant being made for sure. However, the production values and supporting cast struggle to keep up, preventing it from really emotionally landing. If the filmmakers can increase the budget, re-cast it with stronger actors around the leads and trim about 15 minutes off (there are one or two subplots too many), then MY STRETCH OF TEXAS GROUND could inspire plenty of discussion afterwards as well as keep an audience absorbed.
Make sure to check out the film website at https://mystretchoftexasground.com