‘Land’ Is Well-Made, But Emotionally Underwhelming

Cinetic Media, Big Beach Films, Nomadic Pictures

Robin Wright’s feature directorial debut, Land, from a screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, is said to be inspired by the online hate directed at Wright after the final season of House of Cards. She’s stated in interviews that after this time period, she, like her character, wanted to go off and live in the woods and not talk to anyone outside of her bubble. So, Land is basically her vanity project, and I’ve certainly seen worse versions of this.

Edee (Wright) is a privileged woman who has recently been traumatized by something she won’t talk about. After she isn’t able to get anywhere with a therapist, Edee throws her cell phone in the trash and buys a beaten down cabin in the middle of the Wyoming mountains. After nearly freezing to death, Miguel (Demián Bichir) finds her and nurses her back to health, and the two begin a friendship. Meanwhile, Edee can’t seem to let go of her past and the ghosts that haunt her until this day.

We don’t learn any specifics about Edee’s past until the last five minutes of the film. She finally blurts out what happened, and the implications of that event could be so fascinating to explore and discuss emotionally, and the film treats it like, ‘do we have to say this?’ Which, I guess that’s what trauma is, you don’t give the unspoken thing power unless you speak of it, but as an audience, we need to know more about her backstory, because not knowing what is driving her to make these decisions is kind of infuriating. We get a lot of Wright tearfully looking at pictures of family members and we assume someone is dead. But we don’t know how or when or why she’s separated from these people. I guess this whole film is about trauma, but if you can’t contextualize it until after the fact, it can make for a somewhat frustrating viewing experience.

Demián Bichir plays either the magical foreign person or the biblical allegory of the man who comes in to save the woman and teach her something about her own life. And he’s good, he has an easy, watchable chemistry with Wright and admittedly the film does pick up after he arrives. We also have Kim Dickens wasted in the role of Edee’s sister, who shows up only in flashbacks, amounting in roughly a minute and a half of screentime.

The technical aspects here are all pretty top-notch. Wright directs this pretty nicely, and she seems to know what she’s doing behind the camera. Having just watched Sia’s Music, it’s nice to see a vanity project gone kind of right. Even though Wright is onscreen for basically the entire running time, it doesn’t feel as self-indulgent as it could. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski shoots some lovely vistas in Canada, posing as Wyoming, and the landscape looks really beautiful on a giant screen. The score by Ben Sollee is also calming, yet intense when it needs to be.

Ultimately, Land suffers from being released so closely to a similar film, and it can’t help but constantly feel like Nomadland’s less interesting cousin. Both films are about women contemplating their pasts while refusing to move forward in life. And while I do think Wright should direct again, Land is a bit too slight and doesn’t pack the emotional punch it needs to. It’s also very short, it’s like under 90 minutes. And I certainly do not mind a short movie if that movie can do everything it needs to in that time. I think Land needed another 20 minutes or so to flesh everything out and actually give the audience an ending. It feels like they made 75% of this movie and thought, well, that’s enough.

Land is overall, a moderately impressive directorial debut from Robin Wright, but kind of an underwhelming film in every other respect. It’s genuine enough, but kind of drops the ball in the end. It’s well-acted and visually gorgeous, but it didn’t ultimately leave much of an impression on me.

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