It might just be me, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of films lately about overcoming past trauma. Noted actor Robyn Wright makes her directorial debut in Land, another entry in that canon. She demonstrates a strong aptitude for visual storytelling. But her distinctive style can’t hide the thinness of the script.
As I said, I seem to have seen a lot of these types of films. Perhaps that means I’ve just become too familiar with the genre, but I worked out where the film was going in the first 15 minutes. So the next 75 minutes became a bit of a chore. I’m also not much for survivalist movies since The Revenant, and Land has elements of that too. However, Wright’s surprisingly assured direction, the film’s fine performances, and stunning cinematography from Bobby Bukowski (Irresistable) are some compensation.
The film is basically a two-hander. Our protagonist is Edee (Wright), a woman living in Chicago. After an unstated tragedy, she leaves the city and buys a cabin in the mountains of Wyoming. Thinking she’s got it all figured out, she arranges for her car to be taken, leaving her in the magnificent silence of it all. But magnificent silence only goes so far against blinding blizzards, a lack of food and marauding bears. Just as she’s on the verge of freezing to death, a passing hunter Miguel (Demián Bechir) rescues her. With the help of Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), a nurse from the nearby Shoshone reservation, Miguel brings Edee back from the brink. Over the next year, Miguel takes Edee under his wing, teaching her the skills necessary to survive in the harsh environment. But Miguel is hiding a secret that will rock Edee to the core.
Although only just 90 minutes long, Land moves quite slowly. I don’t particularly mind that in a movie, and Wright does a good job of keeping the long sequences of Edee alone in the cabin interesting. The second half picks up somewhat, as Miguel provides a source of human interaction. Screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignan (Submergence) lean into the lyrical. But they also signpost the film’s resolution so clearly that I felt little if any catharsis when it came.
Wright does a fine acting job as the headstrong Edee. She was able to capture the many sides to the character. So Edee becomes a rounded person, not just a cipher. Demián Bechir (Chaos Walking) is equally nuanced as the kindly Miguel. The only other roles of any significance are Sarah Dawn Pledge as the practical Alawa, and Kim Dickens (House of Cards) as Edee’s bewildered sister Emma. Both do a fine job.
Land is an undoubtedly well-made film. Its beautiful visuals and Wright’s empathetic approach to the material are definite pluses. For me though, the script was flawed and that detracted from my enjoyment of it. Still, considering some of the other films showing at the moment, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television