The 400-Word Review: Land
By Sean Collier
February 12, 2021
A pair of quiet new releases, “Land” and “Nomadland,” would be ripe for comparison even if they did not share four letters of a title. (Oddly, the surface similarities don’t end there; one of the production companies behind “Land” is Nomadic Pictures.) Both films concern a protagonist choosing to live away from society, in remote and difficult conditions.
Unlike the more subtle “Nomadland,” though, “Land” spells out its reasoning early on. As Edee, a traumatized woman unsure of her next step, Robin Wright explains, “It’s really difficult to be around people because they just want me to be better.”
That motivation sends Edee to a remote mountaintop in Wyoming, where she buys a cabin without electricity or running water, throws her cell phone away and attempts to give herself a crash course in living off the titular land. While she has the grit, she lacks the experience, and the first winter nearly kills her; she is saved and nursed back to health by a passing hunter, Miguel (Demián Bichir), and a nurse, Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge).
“Land” is Wright’s directorial debut, and she uses it to demonstrate restraint and an eye for detail. The film is eager to explore the dramatic scenery that surrounds Edee’s too-humble abode. Wright frequently frames herself against miles of vista; Edee wants to fit into her surroundings, unaware that she can’t help but stick out.
The photography, by Bobby Bukowski, and the score, by composer Ben Sollee and the string trio Time for Three, are in harmony with Wright’s direction; in picture and sound, “Land” is beautiful and atmospheric. Its chief character, however, isn’t credible. It’s impossible to buy Edee as a misanthrope; as she develops a friendship with Miguel (and even earlier in the story, when she’s purportedly in turmoil), she’s polite, charming and always in control. Save for one brief spat with Miguel — which is resolved in the very next scene — there is no evidence to support her retreat from humankind.
Perhaps that’s a failing of the script. Screenwriters Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam assert who Edee is without proving it; when she rages that her experiment in off-the-grid living is failing, it’s hard to understand why she thought it would succeed. Perhaps, too, Wright was not willing to direct herself into an unappealing position. Like her character, her intentions are earnest, but I’m not sure she’s fully thought this project through.
My Rating: 6/10
“Land” is available via digital on-demand services.