Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Claim

Based on The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy, The Claim is the story about a young surveyor who comes across a town in California during the late 1860s figuring out where to put a railroad while its mayor deals with demons from the past as a woman and her daughter arrives to town. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film is an exploration into the world of the American West in the aftermath of the Gold Rush and the changing times that is to emerge with the arrival of the railroad. Starring Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley, Shirley Henderson, and Wes Bentley. The Claim is a mesmerizing yet haunting film from Michael Winterbottom.

Arriving to the town of Kingdom Come is a young surveyor named Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley) where he works for the Central Pacific Railroad company to find a site where he can put a railroad through California. Accompanied by a group of men who work for the company, Dalglish has to ask the town’s founder and mayor Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) for permission to survey the land as Dillon grants it as he’s hoping that a railroad through town can increase the business. Meanwhile at the same time, a woman named Elena Burn (Nastassja Kinski) and her daughter Hope (Sarah Polley) arrive asking for Dillon as Hope gives Dillon a cross where Dillon realizes who they are as he’s haunted by memories of how he got the gold in which he traded his wife and baby daughter for gold.

Hope befriends Dalglish as he continues to survey the land around Kingdom Come while Dillon hopes to meet the ailing Elena who is suffering from tuberculosis. While Dillon has a lover in the saloon/brothel owner in the Portuguese-born Lucia (Milla Jovovich), Dillon wants to be with Elena as he tries to give Lucia the deeds to the places she owns as well as some gold bricks but she refuses. Dillon marries Elena as hopes to help her beat her tuberculosis as he also gets to know Hope as her relationship with Dalglish blossoms. After some major setbacks and issues over the land, Dalglish makes the decision to leave town to move the route somewhere nearby and easier leaving Kingdom Come without a promising future. Things get worse for Dillon and the town that would force Dillon to do something in response to what is happening around him.

The film is essentially the story about a mayor who learns about a surveyor who is trying to find a path for a railroad in the hopes that it will bring a lot of things to the town. Yet, he is haunted by the arrival of an ailing woman and her daughter which forces him to confront his past when he first found gold and became rich that led to him finding a town where he became its mayor. Upon their arrival, the mayor hopes to redeem himself and do right for this woman as she’s ill from tuberculosis as well as her daughter. Yet, he faces complications from his lover who owns and runs a saloon and a brothel who is in love with him as well as changing times when it becomes clear that the land near might not be suitable enough to have a railroad nearby or right on his town.

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay is very multi-layered in the way he presents a world that is changing during the late 1860s just as the arrival of the railroad is happening around the American West. The character of Dalglish is a young man who works for a prestigious railroad company who wants to see where a railroad can be placed in northern California near Sacramento. He becomes the man that places the fate of the town to see if a railroad can help this small town be more well-known as a lot is already happening. At the center of this is a mayor who is hoping for the railroad to come to the town as he is dealing with how he became rich and is hoping to redeem himself to this woman he knew from his past. While it is obvious who this woman and her daughter are to this man based on the flashbacks but Boyce doesn’t dwell on exposition as he just lets the flashback tells the story.

For Daniel Dillon, the arrival of Elena and Hope Burns can give him the chance to not just find redemption but also do right for both of these women but he would alienate his current lover who is also in love with him. Lucia would definitely play part to not just Dillon’s downfall but in unexpected ways since things become more complicated in the third act when Dalglish makes his decision that would be uneasy for Dillon in what he would face. A showdown would occur but since this is not a conventional Western, the showdown would only serve little to what would happen in the third act.

Michael Winterbottom’s direction is definitely ambitious in terms of the world that he recreates though it is shot largely in Canada with some parts in Colorado. Since the story takes place in the winter and in a small town that is in the middle of the mountains. Winterbottom creates a film that is filled with lots of broad images where it takes place in this land as a young surveyor tries to see where to put the railroad and see if he can help this little town. The direction is also big in lots of ways that includes a very memorable scene of a house being pulled down a hill by men and horses. Still, Winterbottom maintains an air of intimacy with his close-ups and in the interior scenes to showcase a world that is thriving but also changing.

Notably as it is about the possibility of a greater future yet Daniel Dillon would face things that he is unprepared for that would make him deal with everything he had been through. Winterbottom’s use of the flashbacks only pop up once in a while though it would tell enough of what is needed without too much exposition. By the time the third act occurs, things definitely get grim where there are aspects of the Western but it’s not a conventional manner. It’s about a whole lot of things but also loss in a grand way. Overall, Winterbottom creates a truly majestic yet harrowing film about changing times and loss set in the American West.

Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler does brilliant work with the film‘s vast cinematography from the look of the exterior settings to the more evocative lighting schemes for the scenes at night as well as the use of candle lights in the nighttime interior scenes. Editor Trevor Waite does excellent work with editing to play up the intensity of the drama as well as using jump-cuts for certain scenes as it has an air of style throughout the film. Production designers Ken Rempel and Mark Tildesley, along with set decorator Paul Healey, do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the saloons and homes in the town as they are very elaborate in their presentation to present a world of the American West.

Costume designer Joanna Hansen does superb work with the costumes from the ragged clothes the men wear to the more stylish dresses the women wear during that period. Sound editor Ian Wilson does wonderful work with the sound to capture the raucous atmosphere of the saloons to the harsh sounds of the cold winds. The film’s music by Michael Nyman is truly a highlight of the film as it’s a very low-key yet sweeping operatic orchestral score that plays up to the sense of drama and uncertainty that is prevalent throughout the film.

The casting by Kerry Barden, Wendy Brazington, Billy Hopkins, and Suzanne Smith is terrific for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable small roles from Shirley Henderson as a prostitute named Annie, Julian Richings as one of Dalglish’s friends in Frank Bellanger, and Barry Ward as the young Dillon. Nastassja Kinski is excellent as the ailing Elena Burn who deals with her illness and her past with Dillon as she hopes that he does the right thing. Milla Jovovich is wonderful as Lucia who deals with the presence of Hope as she tries to hold on to Dillon while being intrigued by Dalglish’s arrival.

Wes Bentley is excellent as Donald Dalglish who deals with the fate he’s carrying as well as what is going on in the town where he would make some drastic decisions in his life. Sarah Polley is superb as Hope Burn who deals with her mother’s illness while falling for Dalglish as she sees a town going through changes. Finally, there’s Peter Mullan in a marvelous performance as Daniel Dillon who deals with his demons and a possible future while hoping to find redemption for his past sins in a world that is changing around him.

The Claim is a remarkable film from Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. Featuring a great ensemble cast that includes Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, and Nastassja Kinski. It’s a film that definitely showcases a bit of realism into what was happening in the American West. Notably as it’s very different from most films about the West without delving too much into conventions. In the end, The Claim is an extraordinary film from Michael Winterbottom.

Michael Winterbottom Films: (Rosie the Great) - (Forget About Me) - (Under the Sun) - (Love Lies Bleeding) - (Family (1993 TV film)) - (Butterfly Kiss) - (Go Now) - (Jude) - Welcome to Sarajevo - I Want You - (With or Without You) - Wonderland (1999 film) - 24 Hour Party People - In This World - Code 46 - 9 Songs - Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story - The Road to Guantanamo - A Mighty Heart - Genova - The Shock Doctrine (2009 film) -The Killer Inside Me - The Trip (2010 film) - (Trishna) - (Everyday (2012 film)) - The Look of Love - (The Trip to Italy) - (The Face of an Angel)

© thevoid99 2012

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