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'Land' offers beautiful visuals, a simple story

by Courtney Lanning | February 12, 2021 at 1:34 a.m.

It has to be a pretty low-key day to put me in a mood where I can watch a slow-burning drama like "Land."

The trailer for "Land" evoked comparisons in my mind to other back-to-nature films like 2018's "Leave No Trace" or 2007's "Into the Wild."

I'm not certain of the film's budget, but it's Robin Wright's debut as director. The film follows her character, Edee, as she ditches everything and moves to a remote cabin in Wyoming. No car, no phone, just her and nature, alone together in the mountains.

You've got to be a hardy soul to survive alone in nature. I could never do it. I'm not even sure what kind of tree pizza grows on. (That was a joke; I know pizza grows on bushes, not trees.)

Surprisingly, growing up, I was never required to read anything by Jack London. And I have no desire to at this point in my life. But I did read the first three "Hatchet" novels by Gary Paulsen and enjoyed them. I also read the "Julie of the Wolves" trilogy by Jean Craighead George in middle school and loved it.

So while I'm not an outdoorswoman myself, I can appreciate a simple story about someone who finds themselves alone in nature.

Unlike the plane crash in "Hatchet," which strands the main character by accident, "Land" finds Edee moving to the cabin on purpose after a tragic loss. She tells a therapist at the start of the film that everyone just wants her to magically be cured of her mourning and loss of the will to live. But as someone with a tiny bit of experience in grief, I can tell you that's not how it works.

Wright does a fantastic job of playing a woman tormented by loss and unable to take even one more second of society. Of course, I had no doubts going into the film that Wright could star as a hardened survivor, having seen her play an Amazon in "Wonder Woman" and a tough-as-nails cop in "Blade Runner 2049."

If there was a magic frequency Wright had to hit in order to harmonize with this role, she nailed it. Whether she's quietly contemplating the state of her soul while staring at a river or discovering a bear has all but destroyed her food stores, I believe her. There's more to Edee than just staying quiet and staring at the mountains.

"Land" really doesn't boast a large cast. Aside from Wright, the only other main character is a hunter named Miguel played by Demian Bichir. Miguel also seems to be plagued by tragedy as he so and often finds himself at Wright's cabin, teaching her to survive in nature by trapping, harvesting and hunting.

He offers her a quiet companionship to help heal her broken heart, and their friendship makes for special moments in the movie. Bichir is every bit as good an actor as Wright, and their chemistry in "Land" is a solid match.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Miguel is he's always singing lyrics to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. And though Edee confesses his singing isn't great, and she's not all that fond of the song when they first start spending time together, later, when Miguel stops coming around as much, she finds herself missing it.

Even more amusing is the way Miguel sings the song is less like Tears for Fears and more like Lorde's (far superior) cover of the tune.

The rest of this film's soundtrack is pretty low key. I wouldn't be surprised if Focus Features sent someone into Silver Dollar City and bought a CD from there to be the movie's official soundtrack. That's what it sounds like. Though the selection isn't offensive, I found myself wanting less fiddle and more acoustic guitar in the score.

The movie did break my heart toward the end, and it left me contemplative of the decreasing value we're tempted to put on each and every day, even when we don't know if we're going to get a tomorrow. To me, that's the sign of a good film.

Though, funny story, when I initially told Philip I wanted to review "Land," he said Piers Marchant (who has been reviewing films in this newspaper for far longer than I have) wasn't the movie's biggest fan. From that moment on, I was almost determined to enjoy the movie out of spite.

You may not be able to return a suit out of spite, but I sure could enjoy "Land" because of it. I think I was immediately supportive of the movie because the trailer did remind me so much of "Leave No Trace," and I loved that film.

Of course, halfway through the movie, I tossed my spite aside. I found that I didn't have to force myself to pretend I enjoyed "Land." I found it to be a good film on its own merits.

As I type this review, "Land" has a 62% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That's just 3% away from being a "rotten" movie. Here's hoping my review can bump it up to 63%. Though if Piers cancels out my point, bollocks, there's not much I can do.

Everyone who watches "Land" should be able to walk away having enjoyed at least something. If Edee and Miguel don't impress you as characters, then surely you can enjoy the beautiful nature shots the movie jumps to every three minutes or so.

And the cinematography really is one of the best parts of this movie. The principal photography was done in Alberta, Canada, and every nature shot is just gorgeous. It's almost like the film is at least one-third nature documentary. You've got pristine mountains, crystal rivers, and the solitude of a national forest. What's not to like? All you're really missing is the voice of David Attenborough in the background.

Just short of 90 minutes, "Land" doesn't overstay its welcome. The movie never gets preachy and keeps everything pretty grounded. Miguel even has a fantastic dog he introduces about halfway through his relationship with Edee. His name is Potter, and he makes every scene better by virtue of existing.

Perhaps the story's biggest problem comes in revealing exactly who Edee and Miguel lost in their lives that drove them to isolation. I spent the whole movie waiting for a flashback scene or explanation for their combined mourning.

While their struggles are convincing, the story does just kind of dump said exposition at the very end, each character blurting out what happened to their loved ones. I think I would have liked it better if the movie had shown me what happened -- and done it sooner. Lumping that into the movie's simple and otherwise fine ending detracted a little bit.

"Land" is a perfectly fine debut in directing for Wright, full of beautiful scenery and a clean story that viewers will have to slow down to properly appreciate. It won't win any Oscars, but watching "Land" was a perfect way to kill two hours on a Sunday evening.

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