The Air Force wants to build a new air base in Utah but the Whitman family refuses to sell their ranch. Bud Whitman (Tommy Lee Jones) served in Vietnam and he disapproved just as much of forcing Vietnamese villagers to move as he now disapproves of the idea of allowing the government to force American citizens to move. When a judge rules that the Air Force can force the Whitmans to vacate their property under the rule of eminent domain, Bud announces that he still will not be moving. With several of Bud’s old combat buddies showing up to support Bud, the villainous county surveyor, Connie Priest (Terry O’Quinn), prepares to take matters in his own hands.
Tommy Lee Jones vs. Terry O’Quinn? That sounds like it should have the makings of a classic but Stranger On My Land is a largely forgettable made-for-TV movie. A huge part of the problem is that O’Quinn’s character doesn’t have any real motivation beyond just being a prick and that seems like a waste when you consider the number of interesting villains that Terry O’Quinn has played over the years. This is the actor who, in The Stepfather, actually made a multiple murderer seem a little bit likable. Connie Priest seems like a villain that O’Quinn could have done a lot with if only the film’s script hadn’t been so simplistic. Tommy Lee Jones is always well-cast as a modern day western hero but again, the script doesn’t do much with his character. He’s just Tommy Lee Jones yelling at people to get off his property. You could probably go to Tommy Lee Jones’s own ranch and have the exact same experience without having to sit through the rest of this movie. Even Bud’s ethical objections to the Vietnam War feel like something that was just tossed in to assure the people watching at home that he’s not meant to be some sort of gun-toting militiaman. The best performance in the movie comes from Ben Johnson, who is plays Tommy Lee Jones’s father. That’s prefect casting. If Ben Johnson wasn’t actually Tommy Lee Jones’s father, he probably should have been.
The main problem with Stranger On My Land is that it was made for television and it had to operate within the limits of what was acceptable for television in 1988. The entire movie seems to be building up to a fierce battle between Bud and law enforcement but instead, it settles for a personal fight between Bud and Connie. The film’s sudden ending doesn’t feel authentic but it does feel like what you’d expect to find on ABC in the late 80s.