2021, R, 88 mins
Robin Wright as Edee / Demian Bichir as Miguel / Kim Dickens as EmmaDirected by Robin Wright / Written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam
LAND tells a story that initially seems to be painted with familiar genre strokes, only to slowly and surely reveal itself to be uncommonly authentic and raw in the manner that it deals with isolation, grief, and ultimately salvation.
It tells the tale
of a big city middle aged woman that is devastated by gut wrenching
personal tragedy and subsequent depression, so much so that she decides to
completely abandon her life and flees into the wilderness to a remote
cabin to spend her days fending for herself and away from humanity in
general. LAND features Robin
Wright both in front of and behind the camera in her feature film
directorial debut (after spending time sinking her teeth into helming
episodes of Netflix's HOUSE OF CARDS).
Even though the film feels a bit unfinished in places and doesn't
reach a satisfying sense of earned closure, Wright's rookie effort is
undeniably potent with its character beats and themes of abandoning modern
civilization for the primitive wild.
That, and LAND is one of the most sumptuously shot films that I've
seen this year thus far.
reliably superb here playing Edee, who's going through an emotional crisis
that's dangerously teetering towards suicidal tendencies.
Her sister in Emma (Kim Dickens) tries as she can to provide some
form of emotional support, but seems hopelessly unable to break through to
her sibling in any meaningful manner.
Even Edee's attempts to seek help from a therapist are - at least
in her mind - crushing failures, mostly stemming from the fact that, by
her own admission, she just can't stomach the thought of being around
anyone moving forward. Edee
feels hopelessly trapped in the city, so she decides to abandon everything
but the basic necessities required to live and heads out to the most
remote part of Wyoming wilderness to a cabin in the mountains that's about
as far away from metropolis life as it gets.
She wants to essentially be away from anything that once had
meaning to her. Even when the
guide gets her to her remote destination and offers her basic tips for
survival, she steadfastly refuses them.
She literally has no plan upon arrival.
Hell, she's never hunted, trapped and skinned food, started a fire,
etc. in her life. And she
barely has enough supplies to get her through the winter to come.
A lion's share of
LAND hones in on Edee's sometimes pathetic attempts to reconnect to the
outdoors (that she once happily enjoyed with the company of loved ones
back in the day, which is reiterated in the film's multiple sprinkled in
flashbacks) while trying to learn how to live apart from modern
conveniences. She's a greenhorn
when it comes to backwoods living, and when she's not staving off hunger
she has to deal with a nightmarish threat of an equally ravenous bear that
nearly kills her while rampaging its way through the cabin and destroying
what little is left of her supplies.
We seen snippets and hints here and there from her past as to what
possibly might have tipped her mentally over, but the film wisely doesn't
reveal everything too soon. When
Edee's outdoor struggles begin to take their ravaging toll on her mind,
body, and spirit, she's discovered and quickly befriended by a local named
Miguel (Demian Bichir), who helps nurse her back to health while giving
her proper survival lessons in order for her to fully live on her own and
on her own terms. The more
time Edee spends with this kind stranger the closer their friendship
becomes, which begins to make her revaluate her whole lonely mission to indefinitely
segregate herself from people.
One of the many
simply pleasures of LAND is how well that Wright - both as an actress and
director - invests in the central relationship contained within between
the deeply disillusioned Edee and the kindly Miguel, and it's relieving to
see how their bond never becomes a romantic or sexual one.
It's really a union based on practicality, with Edee growing to
realize that she'll need Miguel's "Yoda-like" outdoorsmen
tutelage to allow for her to acclimate herself to the wild more fully.
Miguel is a more crucial figure of influence for Edee simply
because he and his nurse friend (Sarah Dawn Pledge) saved her from certain
death and starvation, and did so because it was the right thing to do.
Compellingly, they reach a mutual agreement about their time
together moving forward: He will guide her in the ways of the wild and
will do so by not telling her anything of the outside
she's set, he will leave her alone at her request.
As LAND progresses and these two souls connect more it becomes
clear that both are going through suffering (in one form or another) and,
in the process, learn to value each other's company as a coping mechanism.
It's pretty rare for dramas these days to portray middle aged
male/female friendships in an realistically platonic manner the way LAND
Wright also has a
stupendously competent visual eye as a new director as well, and her
collaboration with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski manages to take the eye
popping Canadian locations (flawlessly and credibly doubling for Wyoming)
and and covey this setting for what it is: Ruggedly intimidating while
simultaneously being breathtakingly gorgeous.
LAND makes the wilderness setting feel both suitably intense and
picturesque as a secondary character in itself, and one that serves up as
a lushly inviting conduit for a spiritual makeover for Edee, but one
that's not without inherent dangers.
There's absolute beauty to be had here, but that masks the
multitude of things that can all conspire together to kill Edee if not
respected or left unchecked. As
a fully rendered and non-romanticized portrait of the outdoor world and
all of its intriguing and sometimes punishing contradictions, LAND is an
atypically assured work and confident vision.
too that LAND doesn't get too overwhelmed with dialogue and instead lets
the images and non-verbal performances win out in the end (one of the
film's inherent weaknesses, ironically enough, is when the screenplay by
Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam provides some eye-rolling pronouncements
from its character that feel too on the nose, like when Edee declares at
one point, "If I don't belong here, I don't belong anywhere!").
Thankfully, Wright respects the quieter dignity that occurs when
characters just interact with one another and say more when saying little.
This is all guided by Wright and Bichir's effectively dialed in
performances and unforced and natural chemistry that they share on screen.
Bichir has this unassuming manner of giving his characters a sense
of soulful gravitas in the most modest manner, and Wright is understatedly
strong at portraying this deeply troubled woman that seems to be at a
breaking point that's beyond rehabilitation and redemption, but is able to
find it in the most unexpected ways.