> Volume 3 > Number 24

Volume 3, Number 24

This Week's Reviews:  Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Bread and Roses, The Golden Bowl, The Claim.

This Week's Omissions:  Down from the Mountain.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

(Dir: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, Voices include Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Claudia Christian, Cree Summer, Don Novello, Phil Morris, Corey Burto, Jacqueline Obradors, Florence Stanley, Jim Varney, John Mahoney, and David Ogden Stiers)



Plato wrote of a great civilization that grew beyond any other in the earliest days of mankind. The island continent had viable forms of transportation, a plumbing system, and a strong navy. It was called Atlantis, and its property went beyond its huge island continent and into the Mediterranean Sea -- that is, until the day that Atlantis sank to the bottom of the ocean.

And now it's been Disney-fied into another mass marketed kiddie fodder animated film. Ah, that's my normal opening for Disney films as of late, but here's the rub: Atlantis: The Lost Empire is good. Wait, it's more than good, it's mass marketed kiddie fodder that works for both the youngsters and the adults. Where they failed with Dinosaur and The Emperor's New Groove, they succeeded with Atlantis -- it should be as no surprise that the film was directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the men behind Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Did that brief story of Atlantis sound far fetched? Scholars have fought for centuries on the idea of Atlantis -- little things that have been found give a definite idea that there may have been a sea-faring civilization before the Sumerians even set up their first camp -- but no one really knows the answer. So, like the question of the existence of a God or gods and the chicken or the egg debate, Atlantis has become a long-questioned, never-answered subject.

That is the air that the film Atlantis' hero faces: no one believes him in his fantastic ideas of finding the lost city of Atlantis. When the film begins, Milo Thatch (Fox) is hard at work for his search to find Atlantis. He is a linguist and a historian, but the museum bigwigs only see a use for Milo as the janitor in charge of the boiler room. Nevertheless, Milo has continued in figuring out ancient transcripts to find the place -- his latest discovery is that a mistake in the translation has meant that the instructional book to Atlantis has been incorrectly pointing to Ireland instead of Iceland.

But, this discovery does not mean anything: the book has already been found. Milo is directed by stern Helga Sinclair (Christian) to the office of Preston B. Whitmore (Mahoney), an extremely affluent loon. Whitmore was a friend of Milo's grandfather Thaddeus Thatch, who went to great lengths in search of Atlantis. It seems that in one final search for information to find the city, Thaddeus and an exploratory group found the book in, of all places, Iceland right before his death. Now, Whitmore intends on getting the same group of people to find the place with the help of a linguist, namely Milo.

Now, under the command of Lyle T. Rourke (Garner), Milo joins second-in-command Helga Sinclaire, medic Joshua Sweet (Morris), digger The Mole (Burto), explosives expert Vinny Santorini (Novello), mechanic Audrey Ramirez (Obradors), cook (Varney), and operator Wilhelmina Bertha Packard (Stanley) in addition to the 200 other soldiers on the Whitmore-paid exploration. They are to take a sub down into the caverns that the book tells of and then drive up the rest of the way to the area that the book refers to as Atlantis. When they do arrive there, many problems later, they find a wonderful area that is driven by the forces of the inhabitants' souls and has become a dying civilization in search of its own roots.

Upon arrival, the king of Atlantis is on his deathbed. King Kashekim Nedakh (Nimoy) is about to die and leave the entire place to his only daughter Princess Kidagakash (Summer), or 'Kida' for short. He does not trust the new people in his land and wants them out immediately before they can cause any damage, but Kida, on the other hand, thinks that they might be able to help the people of Atlantis. In her mind, if they had what it takes to get all the way to Atlantis, they may have what it takes to decipher the secrets of Atlantis' past. For this reason, of course, Kida and Milo are drawn to each other.

One of the main reasons that I thought that Atlantis went far beyond Disney's last efforts is that there is no clear line between good and evil in the characters. I mean, Milo and Kida are safe bets for good guys, but none of the other characters are sure bets. By the halfway point, I was only sure that two characters might be bad, and had not figured out the others. Kids have been pacified with an array of good and bad guys without any characteristics that fall on the other side. With Atlantis, there is a refreshing way that the characters have a thin line between good and bad. They are not predictable from the get-go, which is refreshing.

Atlantis also has on its side a strong visual touch as part of the fine creative talent of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. In only three pairings, the two men have created three of Disney's best animated films from the last decade. Though Atlantis is definitely nothing in comparison to their still remarkable Beauty and the Beast, it can hold up beside The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which also took on parts (in that case, a much darker story) to enlighten children's senses instead of mollify them.

However, the best thing in all of Atlantis is its sense of adventure. Before even seeing the film, I knew that it would draw back to Disney's earlier live-action outing with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but during the film, I was reminded of both Indiana Jones and Star Wars in the gung ho way that the adventure unfolds. Using some underwater moments that can recreate Star Wars' space, Atlantis delivers some thrills in what could have been otherwise familiar territory (read: last year's Titan A.E.). But in the end, the film's forbearer is definitely Raiders of the Lost Ark. The fun that comes across in the film is so reminiscent of the 1981 Spielberg classic -- had they just changed a couple nationalities to German, moved the 1914 setting to the late 1930's/early 1940's, and made the hero a little more assertive, this could have easily been an Indiana Jones adventure brought to the screen through animation.

But, with all the good things, there must be something to complain about. Some of the characters are too firmly pushed for comic relief -- especially The Mole -- to the point that they are a little cloying after a while. As for the film itself, the ending loses so much of the steam that the earlier adventure had worked up. It gets lost in an oblivion of Pure Moods mumbo jumbo that might work better in a 1969 Tolkien revision than in this film. Atlantis has all it needs to become enjoyable action in an animated form, but it lacks the Indiana Jones charm to end without pandering.


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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

(Dir: Simon West, Starring Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Leslie Phillips, Mark Collie, Noah Taylor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Chris Barrie, Jon Voight, and Rachel Appleton)



It's not new to make a film based upon a video game, but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider yearns to invigorate the subgenre before ultimately failing. Like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Wing Commander, Double Dragon, and Super Mario Bros., Tomb Raider (I abhor the complete title -- I shall only refer to it by the subtitle here on out) is a listless attempt to take hackneyed game play and make a film that flows like a movie, not a three level part of a game that takes 15 minutes to beat extended into a 90 minute film.

Ok, so Tomb Raider fails. Actually, it fails miserably. Director Simon West evidently thought that it would be fun to make a slapdash action film without any sense of excitement or pleasure. I have never played the video game, so I don't know if it shared this disinterest in the audience's (player's) enjoyment level. However, I can note that in all my younger days of playing video games, I never encountered something that could be recreated on the screen so haphazardly. Even the garish traits of Super Mario Bros. seemed part of an overall bombing of the game's style -- Tomb Raider, instead, seemingly feels content in using the style of every other run-of-the-mill summer action film in the guise of its predecessor.

For those unacquainted with the title character of the game, the tomb raider is Lara Croft, luxurious thrill seeker and all-around sassy vixen. Now, whether or not the game Croft is the exact same as the film Croft, I don't know, everything I can understand is from TV commercials and news articles I've read over the years. For the film, Angelina Jolie has been tapped to play Croft. Perfect casting can only go so far -- like Jolie's form fitting clothing in the film, the first glance is eye-catching, her continuous presence does not hold the audience's attention far into the story.

According to the film, she is actually Lady Lara Croft, daughter of famed archaeologist Lord Richard Croft (Voight). He died many years ago -- as his tombstone says "Lost in the Field, 1985" -- but he still appears every once and a while in her memories and dreams. She lives in their huge English mansion, with over 50 rooms that house only two people: Lara and her butler (Barrie). This leaves a great deal of room for storage, perfect considering all the boxes of trinkets that Lord Croft brought home and that Lady Croft has stolen from tombs over the years.

One night, unable to sleep, Lara hears a ticking noise coming from under the stairs. Upon investigation, she finds that there is a clock of some sorts in a box hidden in a secret space under the stairs. After having her personal hacker Bryce (Taylor) take a glance at the piece, Lara notices that there is something more to this little Lord Croft acquisition: the time is ticking backwards like a countdown to something. When Bryce sees something weird inside, Lara breaks open the thing and finds that the face of the clock is actually a key to something -- the drawing on the opposite side of the key grooves harkens back to some stories of a time-bending key her father used to tell her.

It seems that 5,000 years ago, when the planets aligned perfectly, a triangular eye gave its bearer the ability to change the course of time and work it to whatever he felt was needed. A city grew from this power and ultimately fell from the abuse of its powers. To ensure that this might never happen again, the key was broken into halves and hidden on opposite sides of the world. But the time has come for the reuniting of these pieces, a long awaited moment for an Italian underground group called the Illuminati. They have commissioned millionaire Manfred Powell (Glen) to find each part before times runs out and the planets align (missing the deadline means another 5,000 years of waiting).

Powell has gotten one tomb raider to help him, Lara's foil Alex Marrs (Craig). But, what he does not know is that Lara takes a certain amount of interest in keeping the pieces from reuniting because of her father's past history with it. She will do anything and everything in her arsenal to stop Powell from getting the two pieces for the betterment of the evil Illuminati.

Angelina Jolie, I suppose, deserves some credit for doing more with the character than the script probably gave her, but she still hurts from the constant hokum put forth by writers Mike Werb, Michael Colleary, Simon West, Patrick Massett, and John Zinman. Jolie is not a bad actress, just one that often gets lost in poor roles. This role could mean a nice collection of paychecks from sequels, but I doubt that it will mean much in her bid for future Oscars (how long did it take Sean Connery to win an Academy Award after his James Bond tenure? Roger Moore?).

The real problem, though, is that Jolie is the only notable thing in the entire film. West and editor Glen Scantlebury seem content in jamming an entire film with edits that make a messy, jumbled collection of shots. Both of them have been on the Jerry Bruckheimer payroll in the past (West with Con Air, Scantlebury with Con Air and Armageddon) and have evidently carried the producer's burdening style with them like a flashing, neon party hat. They turn the film into Raiders of the Lost Ark for the ADD crowd.

Tomb Raider is a non-stop headache with just enough loud commotion to make the most bored audience member stay awake. I cannot really understand how anyone could be thrilled by any of the film's action sequences, most of them seemed stilted or poorly structured. One, in particular, shows Croft et al. fighting with stone monkey sculptures that have come to life. Not once in the entire sequence does it ever seem in the least rousing -- these adversaries are so poorly created (with the help of horrid CGI supervised by Steven Begg) that the audience is laughing more at it than excited by it.

And, when all the dust clears (both literally and metaphorically), I can only wonder why this idea was even conceived for film in this fashion. I believe that it is not impossible to succeed in bringing a game to celluloid -- I certainly think that Clue worked from its board game origin -- but Tomb Raider never really seemed to be on the track to working. Like all the other video game adaptations thus far, the flaws are huge in the beginning and get worse as the film progresses. Though, at least Tomb Raider had Angelina Jolie, a much shinier star than Mortal Kombat's Christopher Lambert and Wing Commander's Freddie Prinze, Jr. Now, if only she could find a good script and a director that does not frame a shot based upon her breasts.


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Bread and Roses

(Dir: Ken Loach, Starring Pilar Padilla, Adrien Brody, Elpidia Carrillo, Jack McGee, Alonso Chavez, George Lopez, Monica Rivas, Frankie Davila, Lillian Hurst, Melody Garrett, Beverly Reynolds, Sherman Augustus, and Blake Clark)



The subject of Ken Loach's Bread and Roses is definitely timely. At this very moment, my two hometowns are abuzz over two completely different janitorial problems. In Knoxville, the president of the University of Tennessee has called for cutbacks in dorm room janitors and asking students to clean up their own buildings to lower cleaning costs (by this, the students are more or less paying to do the janitors' jobs through their housing payments). In Boston, Harvard University has cut pay for janitors bringing them the lowest paychecks on the entire campus. In both cases, students have taken the part of protesting -- UT students go door-to-door with petitions and carry signs, Harvard students organized a sit-in. As Frances McDormand's college chancellor stated in Wonder Boys, "I wonder if this is what the university has in mind when it promises a liberal education."

The main reason that the students are taking to the protesting is that the laborers in this case do not have a union to turn to -- in both universities only nonunion janitors are hired. Bread and Roses (the title refers to the old labor request for not only bread, but also roses) has a targeted eye on this problem, the exploitation of the nonunion laborers to get cheap work that can save the various upper-level, white-collar workers some cash. This story is not set in either Boston or Knoxville, but in Los Angeles, where the nonunion janitors have an added problem: most are illegal immigrants from Mexico.

When the film opens, a young Mexican girl is making the frenzied run to get across the border and into the U.S. She is Maya (Padilla), another illegal immigrant that yearns for the chances that come with the American cities. After a horrible run-in with smugglers that charge $800 a head to get people across the border, Maya is reunited with her long estranged sister Rosa (Carrillo), who has made a life for herself in America after legally immigrating years earlier. Rosa, husband, and children accept Maya into their home and help her get a job with Rosa as a janitor at a huge L.A. skyscraper. Things are not really easy at this company, ironically named "Angel Cleaning," where Maya must give up her first month's paycheck to the supervisor Perez (Lopez) and people are fired for the least impudent mistakes. And why can such abuse of power occur -- because there's no union taking care of them. In 1982, the same job in the same building made $8.50 an hour with medical coverage. In 1999, they are making $5.75 with no benefits.

Enter union representative Sam (Brody), a young college kid that yearns to impose his liberal union thinking on the janitors that are not yet unionized. Maya is quickly bought onto the ideas of Sam and his union -- it does not take long for her to also fall for Sam himself. But there are huge problems in all this: Perez is very strict in keeping the unions out of his business and Rosa will not fall for the ploys of a union working for her.

Bread and Roses is the first time in America for British socialist filmmaker Ken Loach. His regular Marxist films may not agree with me politically, but almost always, Loach shows a great deal of prowess in his working with various subjects. Over the course of more than 25 years, Loach has worked almost constantly to make social commentary on celluloid. His 30 films -- including Poor Cow, Riff-Raff, Land and Freedom, Carla's Song, Ladybird, Ladybird, and My Name is Joe -- have all had the same ideals in mind: to set out important social agendas in the form of realistic filmmaking.

I like Loach's films even though I often could not disagree with him more in politics. The degree of politicking in his films changes from one movie to another, but often times I catch myself engrossed with the films even when the views are burdening. Bread and Roses is definitely one of those films. Like Riff-Raff, the social commentary is heavy-handed, but I cannot help but sit in wonderment at the way Loach chooses to set it forth. By the end of the movie, my beliefs were still very much in line, but I was nevertheless thrilled that Loach succeeded in showing all his subjectivity without leaving out any audience members that are not already on his side of the fight. Truthfully, for my money, Loach has never really created a socially important film with cinematics as well as Lynne Ramsey did with Ratcatcher, but he still succeeds on a regular basis -- all in all, he has never really made a bad film, just a few that were less than others.

One reason that Bread and Roses works, it seems, is that he does not let his Dogme style become another pretension in his arsenal. Of course, he used this handheld, realistic style long before Lars von Trier gave it a name, but rarely has the Dogme style come off quite as well. Ramsey with Ratcatcher, von Trier with Breaking the Waves, and Thomas Vinterberg with The Celebration stand as the only directors besides Loach to direct in the style without allowing the pretentiousness of the style to become overbearing. In this case, Loach's style makes it almost seem like we, the audience, are caught watching the various events from a side chamber -- unable to pitch in, but close enough to feel like it is a reality.

Ah, but with all the didactic styling, Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty chose to impose all their workings through a character with nearly nothing to cause the audience to care for her. Maya is in no way worth a film's attention -- she is selfish and ungrateful. In the film's big emotional scene between Rosa and Maya, the protagonist is actually screaming at her sister because things aren't all right now, when her sister had just spent most of her life working to ensure Maya's way of life. Now, because she has had a bad run-in with smugglers and doesn't get paid well, she tries to demonize her sister, who is working her job to pay for her husbands medical bills and has in the past sold her body to feed Maya and to even get her the job at Angel Cleaners. Maya is a horrible character to follow in a film, far from the great Peter Mullan as Joe in My Name is Joe. By the end of the film, as I sat happy with where Loach was taking me, in the back of my head I was bothered by who they made me go through it with.


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The Golden Bowl

(Dir: James Ivory, Starring Uma Thurman, Jeremy Northam, Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, Anjelica Huston, James Fox, Madeleine Potter, Nicholas Day, and Peter Eyre)



Early this year, I had a chance to write a review for Terence Davies' splendid film adaptation of The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Not only was it a chance to enjoy a fine literary achievement, but also to bask in a fine film. That is not the way it is with the latest effort from Merchant Ivory, Henry James' oft-verbose prose found in The Golden Bowl never really comes to life in their adaptation and, instead, lies dormant like another fluffy pillow sitting in the corner of one of their sets.

It should be said that I've never really been a huge James fan. He was a great writer -- there's no questioning that -- but his stories seem so stuffy and constrained to conviction that it's tough to care about. I can understand why some people love to read his works, but I'd rather hit a Wharton or a Steinbeck or a Vonnegut or a Salinger work, not necessarily happy reads, but I get the feeling that I've been part of something magical whenever I read their novels.

However, one of the reasons that Henry James is considered a literary genius is that he fills his works with constant emotion and pinpoints entire stories on single moments. This is the antithesis of the last Merchant Ivory production, 1998's underrated gem A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, where an entire story seems like a collection of scenes. On the other hand, with The Golden Bowl (which, by the way, James always considered to be his most successful effort), the scenes are nearly all there is to the work. Many of the scenes are interchangeable and, in some cases, completely excisable, yet all are engaging. Reading The Golden Bowl, the hardest thing to imagine is the novel working as a film other than a six-hour miniseries (which the BBC attempted in 1972). And, in their attempt, producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the leaders of the Merchant Ivory team, which would also include composer Richard Robbins, cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, and costumer John Bright) fail without making complete fools of themselves. Hey, at least they tried to do something hard instead of turning to old clichéd, recycled storylines.

The novel is, of course, about American expatriates and their ability to be eaten up by the posh European living. This time around, its four people, only one of whom hails from Europe, an Italian that is, like the others, away from home in England. The central coupling is Prince Amerigo (Northam) and Charlotte Stant (Thurman). Neither of these two have the money that they attempt to make people believe that they have -- Amerigo's family may have long historical importance but failed to leave much money to his inheritance and Charlotte has created the façade of money through the goodwill of her rich friends -- but do truly love each other. In some ways, they are like The House of Mirth's Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden.

The other two are coupled through family. He is Adam Verner (Nolte), the first billionaire, and she is Maggie Verner, his daughter. Through the toiling of his American coalminers, Verner has become filthy rich and yearns to pay back his workers through a museum with art he collects while visiting Europe. This elitist idea is his own way to forgive himself for losing the old-time American virtues of rough individualism; he is a Midwesterner that became rich and now feels amiss by living in European hedonism. Maggie has, instead, become quite content with her way of life -- she gets to enjoy all the pleasures of money without the snooty past.

But these two couples cross and create problems through this. Maggie and Charlotte are best friends, going back to their days as schoolgirls. Maggie has no earthly idea that Charlotte has had a long affair with Amerigo, and thinks that they are meeting for the first time when she brings to two together. The real problem, though, is that the reason for their meeting is that Amerigo and Maggie are to be married -- Adam had the proper monetary present to convince Amerigo to marry into the Verner family. In the wake of all this, the bachelor Adam feels like a third wheel in his daughter and son-in-law's life and then feels pushed by his daughter when he becomes enticed to marry Charlotte.

But the two initial pairings are strong -- even as two completely different married couples, they often find that they instead move back to their old connections. Adam is usually not game to enjoy the parties that his upper-class friends invite him to and Maggie is so content as daddy's little girl that she often stays home with him. This leaves Charlotte and Amerigo to go to the events together, meaning that they can continue their old relations in the guise of mere family friends. Most of the other people of the in-crowd have their doubts about the virtuousness behind the two being together so often, especially Fanny Assingham (Huston), who let the two marriages occur even though she knew of Amerigo and Charlotte's past, but the two continue going out together without their spouses.

The way Henry James wrote, mood and emotion is set through his writing, not through the characters, and the adaptation instead relies heavily on them. While all the actors involved are quite fine in their own right, only Nolte and Northam succeed in evoking their needed feelings through their performances. Perhaps this could have been helped by a narrative approach to the story. While this probably would have been sloppy at first, it would have successfully taken the weight off of the actors, who struggle with emoting amid all the lavish sets and costumes.

Once again, the visual splendor of Merchant Ivory sets and costumes often steal the show when the camera is not careful. That is one of the easiest ways to tell if they succeed or not. When working on their best projects like Howards End and The Remains of the Day, the story and characters keep me from even noticing how exquisite the backgrounds are, but when they fail like Surviving Picasso and The Bostonians (also a Henry James adaptation) the first viewing is left to being impressed by only the sets and clothes (though it should be said that mediocrity is their failure, they have never made a truly bad film).

But I do not go to films to be astounded by the menial good things in the background -- I come expecting cinema to create the splendid visuals with a fine story. Even when it's working off of the restrictions of a literary masterpiece, a film adaptation should create the essence of the original through the different medium. Instead, Merchant Ivory's The Golden Bowl misses the chance to capture the original with the exception of the sedation. The film is closer to a Cliff Notes adaptation than one from the novel.


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The Claim

(Dir: Michael Winterbottom, Starring Wes Bentley, Sarah Polley, Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Julian Richings, Shirley Henderson, Sean McGinley, Barry Ward, and Karolina Muller)



For his second turn with Thomas Hardy after 1996's Jude (from Jude the Obscure), British auteur Michael Winterbottom has chosen to recreate the basis of Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge and made it into an American western. The Claim does not cleft off of many westerns; the only film that can really compare is Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

The original novel told the story of a highly successful town mayor that must deal with the sudden return of one of his biggest mistakes -- though, his present success would have never happened had he not made that damning choice. For the film adaptation by Frank Cottrell Boyce, this mayor is Daniel Dillon (Mullan), whose town is Kingdom Come as part of the Sierra Nevada in 1867. In his past, he was just another poor 49er making his way into the gold-hungry California winter wilderness, traveling with a few belonging including a wife and baby girl. Belonging is a perfect term for his feelings on these two -- he really hasn't any care for them at that moment in time, treating them like an additional beast of burden carrying a gunnysack. When they happen upon a 49er, lonely and sexually starved, that had struck gold, the man requested a trade from Dillon: he would give up his claim to the area for Dillon's wife and kid. Dillon happily agrees.

But, twenty years later, this haunts Dillon. His town is thriving and he has proven to be a kind mayor to the townspeople -- early on in the film, he beats a man with a horse whip for robbery as the only way to appease a crowd hoping for a hanging -- and has become very rich in the process. Nearly every business in the town is owned by him, the saloon, the casino, the brothel, the bank, and has a nice collection of gold bars in his bank vault. However, Dillon is only content to a point -- his life is lacking something, whether it be the two he left behind years earlier, he does not know.

Then as he celebrates the arrival of Donald Dalglish (Bentley), a railroad surveyor who can make or break Dillon's town by either running the railroad beside the place or down on the other areas around the mountains, two ladies make way into Kingdom Come. Dillon does not notice them; they are like wayward ghosts seeping back into his life without him even knowing it. Of course, they are the two women he dropped two decades earlier; wife Elena (Kinski) has contracted tuberculosis and wants to get Dillon's help in taking care of their daughter Hope (Polley) as Elena dies her slow death. Dillon sees this as a way to save his soul -- though he cannot live the twenty years he had without them, he can do his best to accommodate them now even though Hope thinks that the recently deceased prospector of Dillon's past is her father. Dillon almost immediately drops his mistress, the brothel manager Lucia (Jovovich), and moves his fully furnished home up to the hill beside the town for them to make a home out of. He even has a mock wedding with Elena so that the townspeople and Hope will not think anything is wrong with their coming together.

All this is played to the backdrop of Dalglish's work on the railroad. Though it is not a power that he wields happily, Dalglish can turn a once booming settlement into a ghost town with one pencil marking on a huge map. The relationship between Dalglish and Dillon is engrossing -- Dalglish has been able to ride the attempted bribary from town-to-town while surveying and Dillon is quite happy to throw a few more benefits his way. However, they both share an interest in Hope, Dalglish has fallen for her and Dillon yearns to become a father figure to her.

The whole cast is fine, with the exception of the horribly whiney Jovovich. With every film appearance, the Ukrainian model-turned-actress gets more and more on my bad side. Amidst a cast of magnificent actors, Jovovich has the ill chance of being the one rotten apple.

Wes Bentley does a good job playing his role. A few times, his character feels a little too distant, but for the most part, he plays it with a penetration similar to his Ricky Fitts in American Beauty but without the youthful distraction. He seems to have aged more between the two roles than the mere year between the productions. Bentley looks to have a bright future -- he could perhaps prove to be the great young actor that the 1980's Tom Cruise failed to be.

One of the film's most interesting casting choices is Nastassja Kinski, who made her first mark in film by playing the title character in Roman Polanski's Tess (which was also an adaptation from a Thomas Hardy novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles). Kinski has not played such drama in years. She is actually a fine actress, just often lost in comedies like Father's Day and Town & Country. Her tubercular digression is harrowing -- there is nearly a five-minute sequence just watching her slowly whither away -- Kinski plays her tuberculosis far different from Nicole Kidman's Satine in Moulin Rouge, with a much tougher, much more realistic edge.

Howver, when the film ended, there were two actors that really hit me hard: Polley and Mullan. Polley has been on my list of actresses to keep an eye on since I saw her in 1997's The Sweet Hereafter (where she was robbed of an Academy Award nomination) and have relished seeing her in each film since. Here she is like Kinksi's Tess Durbeyfield 22 years ago -- a fresh face lost in the harrowing events that surround her. Now, when it comes to Thomas Hardy females, Hope is treated far better than both Tess and Jude, but she doesn't necessarily get things easy, just comparably easier.

Unfortunately, The Claim has already had its Oscar qualifying run -- it had a week in an LA theatre in 2000 to qualify and then did not get a regular release until four months later. If not for that, I would already go into a campaign in hopes of a Peter Mullan nomination. He is an incredible actor, giving depth and emotion to each role like a Scottish Orson Welles (oh, what I'd give to see Mullan play Macbeth). As he goes into a brooding and somewhat nihilistic finale, definitely a Hardy-esque ending, the whole film is held on his shoulders and he carries it well. Peter Mullan's best performance before now was his Cannes fest winning turn as Joe in My Name is Joe, but his performance as Dillan is superior.

For me, the main reasons to like The Claim were in the performances, but there is definitely such a strong visual sense that others might herald it above all else. Winterbottom uses some of his best directorial touches here, where he can show-off his youthful style on such an aged genre. The fresh serenity that Winterbottom often uses is perfectly balanced by the occasional western interludes that Frank Cottrell Boyce adds to the story.

After the film has ended three scenes will be etched in the mind of every person attending the film. The first is an attempt by Dalglish to get explosives across a bumpy riverbed. The second is Dillon's proud moving of his new family home to the hill. The third is the climax of the film with Dillon's resetting of personal agony. Each scene is splendid for their cinematography by Alvin H. Kuchler, but also in the way they mark the story at different moments: the first and third show how destructive people can be, only the second shows their benefit.


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Reviews by:
David Perry