Robin Wright’s feature directorial debut, Land, is a lavish-looking production with many commendable elements. Rather than fully developing the story, however, the screenwriters rely upon cliches and metaphors, piling nothing but striking visuals on top, and thus opening up a sinkhole into which the rest of Land collapses.
Wright stars as Edee, a woman who grieves for her husband and son. As the opening credits play, she relocates to an off-grid location in Wyoming. It’s a beautiful setting, but Edee’s remote cabin is also a severe self-imposed isolation. As she tries to adapt — clearly struggling with even basic tasks to keep her living situation tenable — she receives help from a local man named Miguel (Demián Bichir).
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On paper, Land has all the ingredients of a moving character portrait. Wright and Bichir are engaging presences, and the director’s shot choices combine well with Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography to augment the story with visuals that underline Edee’s journey. However, the script shows little interest in developing the story and instead bogs down the performances and visuals with strained metaphors and Edee’s self-flagellation.
Given that Edee seems almost comically helpless before rugged Miguel appears, this seems like a logical (and maybe superficial) concept to explore. However, the more significant issue lies in the fact that the writing fails to recognize the commonalities that draw each person to the other. Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam’s script is primarily concerned with developing opportunities to metaphorically convey Edee’s current situation, which involves seclusion and imagination. So, when Wright frames Edee and Miguel overlooking the landscape after hunting (a callback to Edee’s failed solo attempt), it leaves a gaping character void that may result in a lack of empathy from the audience.
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Of course, it’s hard not to empathise with someone crying in the foetal position in a freezing wooden cabin, but Land fails to elicit anything more than the most basic human reactions. Indeed, as the film drags on (feeling much more sluggish than its 88-minute run time), the beautiful landscape visuals fade more and more into the background, leaving nothing but the unremarkable dialogue that Wright and Bichir’s performances struggle to round out.
There is a late attempt to add some meat to the bones of the story, but it cannot remedy the script’s fundamental issues. Land is positioned as an exploration of grief and survivor’s guilt — a crowded celluloid space – but the lack of distinctive figures renders Wright’s film picturesque but fallow.
Jim Ross (@JimGR) is a film critic and film journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the Managing Editor and co-founder of TAKE ONE Magazine, which began as the official review publication of the Cambridge Film Festival and now covers film festivals and independent film worldwide. Jim hosted a fortnightly film radio show on Cambridge 105FM from 2011-2013 and joined the crew of Cinetopia, on Edinburgh community radio EH-FM, in 2019.