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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.7%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 7.41%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Claim, The
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by Greg Muskewitz

"Sarah Polley increases her impressive résumé with unrequested believability"
4 stars

The beginning of a trend: the studios believe they have a certain movie, as of yet unreleased, that has award, as in Oscars, potential. They screen the movie for us critics long before it is scheduled to release, but then when the early awards roll in and that particular movie hasn't picked anything up, the studio decides to pull it from the release it would have gotten and then send it off to video limbo. MGM/UA seems to be reigning as doing this, the movie that jumps to mind being Mike Figgis' horrible atrocity Miss Julie. Not releasing it wasn't such a bad thing at all, but this time around the movie being shunned, The Claim, doesn't deserve the desuetude that it is heading for.

(And, from the top of my memory, MGM also did not screen Just the Ticket year or two ago, and then secretly released it with no publicity, and showed Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, impressive cast, at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and then did not open it nationwide or even in limited release.)

Respectable director Michael Winterbottom (there was a time in the world when I thought Mike Figgis was a respectable director, but over the last two years he has proven me oh-so-wrong) takes on Thomas Hardy for the second time (this was inspired by "The Mayor of Casterbridge"), the first of course being Jude (as in the obscure). This Hardy adaptation (by Frank Cottrell Boyce) is a less thoroughly depressing tale, but depressing nonetheless. It is 1867 in the small town of Kingdom Come in the Sierra Nevada, and the town, mayored by Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) is usurped by a group of young men who have come to build a railroad going through the town. The railroad would then of course bring extra commerce to the town, actually putting it on the map.

The leader of the pack is Dalglish (Wes Bentley), and the townspeople are so overjoyed with the thrust of their town that Dalglish and his men are thrown all kinds of perks including alcohol and prostitutes. ("I'm gonna fuck you deep") He can't help but notice the mayor's woman, Lucia (Milla Jovovich), but once he is forewarned of the "hands off" regulations, he shifts attention to the plainer, but more earthy girl Hope Dillon (Sarah Polley) who is aiding her ailing mother (Nastassja Kinski). They have also just made it into town, and as we learn it is to find a family member. It then becomes no surprise when things prevent these protagonists' plans from running like clockwork.

The Claim is, above all, a western removed of sands and desert, but replaced with the fluffy downfall of snow. The script, very much a literal translation, in addition to the spaced distancing of the story through coldness of it, keeps the viewer at a certain distance from warming up too close to it. This tool is not an altogether bad one, but where throughout it keeps this attitude continually, when it switches gears upon the familial discoveries and other such "sentimental" developments, it breaks the flow by asking too much of the audience. It would be far easier to stay disaffected by the melancholy proceedings instead of becoming involved in them. By the time in which the end is near, suddenly all of the suppressed emotions have been unbosomed in an unregulated downpour. Because of the ill-timed introduction and rush of remorseful feelings, it was hard to be affected by them. It was not properly revealed and then executed; when The Claim ends it really only gives way for a feeling of being let down. "You mean that's it?" What happens is not so much a surprise, or unreasonable, but the fashion that it's scripted drops it on us too unfairly.

Aside from that, and without having read "Casterbridge" (I like Hardy, but am only familiar with "Jude the Obscure" and "Tess of D'Urberville"), the soap opera characteristics that it maturely handled don't come off sensationally or over-zealously. The Claim is a compelling tale, but one more so for the enjoyable and broad-based collection of performances.

Sarah Polley is foremost there, a long time favorite of mine, her calm, muliebritic characteristics make her uncharacteristic and much more realistic. Polley approaches her role so peacefully and genuinely that you forget she's playing the role, and because of the lack of anything dominant in her features (with the small exception of her teeth), it lets her better fill out the roles without over-distinguishing herself. Polley makes her presence known, but then turns up the ballast and performs as the life-like character. Wes Bentley is far more at home in this period piece, but also manages to increase his cogent characterization. Unlike Polley, Bentley remains much more a "character," but evokes a believability from it. For her brief time, Kinski does well with what she's given, and taking a new path in her career is Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, The Messenger). Jovovich has proved that no matter what period she is cast in, her visage is always quite stunning. But with The Claim, she shows a strong growth as an actress. Whereas she looks like an elegant mix of Parker Posey and Liv Tyler (it took me a good five or ten minutes to descry who she was), Jovovich creates a whirlwind character. Again, she lacks the realisticness of Polley's Hope, but there is a fascination with Jovovich's Lucia. She is a strong character, and is worthy of the ripples and creases that Lucia is intended to make. The weakest link in the cast is Mullan, who is satisfactory in the role, but, because of his thick accent makes it difficult for his dialogue to be deciphered at times. It's a noticeable and frustrating detraction.

I missed Winterbottom's previous effort last summer with Wonderland while I was on vacation, but I like his restraint with The Claim. He tries some unwarranted tricks with the camera --scenes are intercut with purposeful blurs-- which seem to represent people's immediate disillusionment or fogginess during the decent of not just one man, but men in general. Winterbottom's clear images are effective and complete; one scene or image in particular, a horse on fire running at top speed, registers a strong sense of chill and odd beauty. He employs some excellent technical faculties, Michael Nyman's score, Alwin Kuchler's cinematography, and especially the production design by Mark Tildesley and Ken Rempel which is very reminiscent of that from Oscar & Lucinda's. It is an elegant beauty.

It's extremely disturbing when a movie that has as much quality as this offers, cannot find a place to be released, and ever so much more bothersome when there is such a draught of quality from anything currently playing. (For understanding, see the previews of The Wedding Planner or Head Over Heels; I would say see the movies, but that would be defeating the purpose.)

Final verdict: B.

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originally posted: 02/02/01 11:14:54
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User Comments

3/05/05 tatum Beautiful, and oh so slow 4 stars
9/30/03 R.W. Welch Decent take on Hardy yarn but mostly played too low key with slack pacing. 3 stars
2/22/02 Tomper Moral of the story don't sell your wife and child for gold. But I already knew that. 4 stars
1/21/02 The Bomb 69 had trouble focusing on the story, my attention wandered 3 stars
12/08/01 Gina pretty to look at, but damn confusing until the end-no wait, damn confusing all the way 3 stars
12/01/01 Belinda It took nearly the full length of the movie to get into this ! 2 stars
12/01/01 livedarryl This movie bored me and I found it very uninspiring. 2 stars
11/30/01 Paul Kazmercyk While not a masterpiece, this movie obviously was the product of a well-crafted screenplay. 4 stars
11/29/01 Nancy Rockafellar a visual feast, good historical imagination, right down to gold teeth and lantern light 5 stars
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  20-Apr-2001 (R)



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