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Gold (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"The West called to everybody."
4 stars

"German Western" isn't a phrase that even the most enthusiastic movie-goers have many changes to use, and that's a little bit more surprising than it should be. Germans were one of the largest immigrant groups to North America in the 19th Century, after all, and probably deserve a bit more representation than the occasional character nicknamed"Dutch". "Gold" does a fair job of changing that a bit, telling a fairly familiar story with a distinct German accent.

Few went from Germany to the West directly; Emily Meyer (Nina Hoss), for instance, may grown up in Bremen but lived in Chicago for the last five years before joining an all-German party to pan for gold in the Yukon in 1898. It is led by Wilhelm Laser (Peter Kurth), who makes sure to get the money up front. Gustav Muller (Uwe Bohm) is a reporter covering the expedition for a German-language newspaper in New York; Joseph Rossmann (Lars Rudolph) is also coming from that city, where his wife and four children live in a one-room apartment. Otto and Maria Dietz (Wolfgang Packhäuser & Rosa Enskat) are the cooks, and Carl Böhmer (Marko Mandic) is the packer.

There are a couple of Americans on Carl's trail, as it happens, but this is less the sort of Western where the heroes are harried by gun-slinging outlaws than by the West itself. Writer/director Thomas Arslan has the party spend some time in settlements, but those scenes are often used to make sure the audience is aware of just how difficult it will be to reach Dawson by this route. On the trail, he doesn't so much present obvious obstacles and dangers as show how even a benign-seeming environment can wear the insufficiently prepared down. There are surreal moments, and ones where the seemingly prosaic can derail everything. The wear on them is front-and-center, and not just because Arslan shot the film chronologically (while apparently being somewhat miserly with the soap).

For all that the land is full of danger, it is also strikingly beautiful; Arslan and cinematographer Patrick Orth shot the movie on location in British Columbia, and every shoot looks great. For a relatively low-budget feature, it is very well put together, with it never feeling like the wilderness or the town end just off-screen. There is not a whole lot of action - just one sequence that really qualifies as a showdown - but Arslan does tension well, and he stages the climax in a way that recalls early Westerns without being out of place in a modern film.

Playing the only single woman in the party, Nina Hoss is at the center most of the time, which is generally a good decision. Most of the characters in this movie are fairly taciturn, and while Emily does lay her circumstances out plainly at one point, it's almost unnecessary; Hoss has shown her as being in no way naïve about the world even if her reticence stops short of harshness. Emily and Carl do a nice job of out the best in each other, with neither Hoss nor Mandic playing their part starry-eyed but never making them cold, either. The rest of the cast play their parts in ways that embrace how they are genre standards without making them cardboard placeholders, with Lars Rudolph and Peter Kurth particular stand-outs.

There's a quiet practicality to most of them, which could be said to give the film it's German flavor. It's not humorless, though, and even though the story is built around the characters being out of their depths in an inhospitable environment, it is broken up just enough that the constant danger doesn't become tedium or the "who dies next" of a horror movie. Arslan seldom make a particular point of how these people were immigrants before they were pioneers, but it does add a little tension when they meet others, whether Anglos in town or First Nations people on the trail, as they're doubly outsiders.

It adds an interesting flavor to what could be a fairly basic Western, and that is always welcome. Then again, any sort of Western showing up on screen at all is rare enough that you don't have to be too fancy to stand out, and "Gold" works well enough as a traditional entry in the genre to be worth a look just for that.

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originally posted: 01/22/14 13:43:35
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User Comments

6/09/14 billie Wright great movie for the mature audience 4 stars
2/02/14 GRDGHupBCiiNozdF awVtpSIf 3 stars
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Directed by
  Thomas Arslan

Written by
  Thomas Arslan

  Nina Hoss
  Marko Mandic
  Peter Kurth
  Uwe Bohm
  Rosa Enskat
  Wolfgang Packhäuser
  Lars Rudolph

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