Starring Robin Wright, Demian Bichir, Kim Dickens
Written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam
Directed by Robin Wright
Produced by Allyn Stewart, Lora Kennedy, Peter Saraf, Leah Holzer
Cinematography by Bobby Bukowski
Edited by Anne McCabe, Mikkel E. G. Nielsen
Music by Ben Sollee, Time for Three
”Land” is a baffling disappointment, brought down by an irritating, confusing script and story; a major failed exposition; a confusing story and narrative technique; a strangely unlikeable and unrelatable lead character; an overly-simplistic story; a too-slow tempo; a waste of beautiful landscapes and scenery and a baffling final act.
The major problem with “Land” is the overall story, script, dialogue and plot. The story intends to tell a tale about a modern-day woman, Edee Mathis, who goes through some major difficulties and setbacks in life and subsequently decides to get rid of most of her possessions, get off the grid as much as possible, retreat to a cabin deep in the wilderness and live life as a solitary hermit. Well, this basic exposition set-up becomes the downfall for everything that follows in this generally drab, depressing and bleak movie. There are numerous faults with just how this set-up is established, and in the context of a straight-ahead drama, nothing works here.
First, Edee makes this decision to just move away to a cabin in the woods with little training, consultation, education, background, experience or even general knowledge about how to survive in a cabin in the wilderness without most basic supplies. She even starts this weird new phase of life in this cabin without basic tools, without basic clothing, without basic assistance, without even, it appears, basic knowledge about how to start a fire, how to hunt and find meat, how to grow and cultivate plants, how to repair and renovate a cabin, about how to gather water, how to make clothes, how to protect herself from the elements, how to use first aid, and about five-hundred other basic outdoors, camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and wilderness survival and basic survival techniques and tactics. She even sells her car, leaving her essentially stranded high in a mountain, far from civilization.
Does this make any sense, even in the context of a movie? No–it doesn’t make any sense. Viewers will find themselves watching this exposition and first act basically thinking, “Is this woman committing suicide? Is she crazy? Is she suffering from mental illness?” Viewers will be tempted to also ask, bluntly, “Just how stupid is this woman?” Or, perhaps, “If this woman is acting this stupid, why do I care about her?”
Truly, seriously–why and how does a movie present a basic premise of a woman retreating in life to a far-away cabin in the wilderness with little to zero wilderness survival training? Again, none of it makes any sense.
Second, the woman, after a series of pretty dumb actions showing complete ignorance of the outdoors, the elements and basic survival, succumbs to the elements and point-blank collapses in despair and defeat on the floor of her too-cold cabin amid a raging mountain snowstorm. All the viewer can think is, “Well, yes, what did she think would happen?”
And all of this consumes “Land’s” rickety, shaky first act.
Then, a kindly, similarly solitary nearby hunter happens to sense that something’s wrong at Edee’s cabin, he stops to help her, and he and others soon nurse Edee back to health. That is understandable, and this gets viewers back into the story and the movie. But there’s still that nagging feeling of, well–perhaps if she had undertaken the correct training and education, brought the right tools and supplies, worn the right clothes, and taken the proper, common sense precautions in regards to basic survival techniques, she would not have had to be rescued.
However, the rescue sets up the rest of the movie. Thus, a shaky exposition and first act provides the plot reasoning for what comes later, and that foundation, already shaky, never gets solidified.
The hunter that rescues Edee obviously likes Edee and cares about her, and he soon teaches her about hunting and fishing, about growing crops, about properly finding, chopping and storing firewood, about where and how to hunt and prepare wild food, and a host of other normal wilderness survival tools, techniques and tactics. However, all the viewer can think is, “Why is this woman learning all of this now?” And the only convenient answer is to move the plot forward so Edee and the hunter, Miguel, can soon bond and develop a close friendship and relationship, or more.
All of this occurs, stems and flows, too, from that basic shaky foundation.
“Land” shows and proves that when a movie starts on a shaky, unstable–and generally unbelievable–story foundation, everything that follows in the story is going to be shaky, too. Alas, unfortunately, “Land” never recovers from its shaky foundation, and the screenwriters are unable to adequately build a solid story that moves and carries the movie forward.
Once again, it’s another story, script and plot disadvantage that appears that also prevents “Land” from gaining its needed appropriate momentum: The required background that viewers need to know upfront about Edee and Miguel are not immediately told, and only bits and pieces–but not enough bits and pieces–are parceled out here and there, bit by bit, as a means of storytelling. However, when this storytelling technique is utilized–keeping most of the characters’ backgrounds and backstory and reasons for their motivations hidden, unexplained and unclear–these movies rarely work. Even the best-intentioned films that use this technique end up failing. When a viewer literally does not know enough of the background of lead characters, and the viewer literally has no idea why or what is happening, the entire film is enveloped in a cloud of uncertainty, disgust and general disinterest. This, too, occurs in “Land,” and this, too, helps to bring down the movie.
Finally, after Edee actually starts to learn how to take care of herself–bizarrely, abruptly and crazily, the other main character in the film–Miguel–just suddenly disappears from the story! He actually goes off, somewhere, without any explanation to his new friend in the wilderness, Edee. And he disappears from the story just when the relationship between Edee and Miguel is getting interesting, and just when it appears this movie might recover.
But, alas, we’re left alone with Edee again. And, it should be noted, it’s not fun being left alone with Edee. Robin Wright is a talented actress–we know this–but here in “Land,” she plays Edee with such detached, depressing coldness, it’s consistently disheartening. You just don’t care much about Edee-she’s simply not a likeable character. Miguel seems nice enough, but even there, he’s so soft-spoken and quiet and reserved, even as knowledgeable and likeable as Miguel is, there’s still a wall around him, too, that prevents people from completely embracing him.
Demian Bichir is a good actor, too, and he does a good job of making Miguel as relatable and human as he can, but, again, it’s that overall story that’s preventing the complete persona of Miguel to fully come through.
And then, suddenly, the abrupt third act appears out of nowhere, and what occurs wholly deflates the movie.
“Land” needed a completely different script and story, and the movie needed much better dialogue. The movie, and the main character, would have been much more likeable if she knew what she was doing from the start, and then she became injured not through stupidity, but perhaps through a completely understandable outdoor accident. Then her recovery and relationship with Miguel would have been more enjoyable, and viewers would have looked forward to Edee’s recovery, and viewers could like the increasingly close relationship that forms between her and Miguel. And Miguel should not have left Edee, and that aforementioned final act should simply not have happened.
Robin Wright directed “Land,” and one can clearly see that she knows what she’s doing behind the camera–there is nothing really wrong with her direction–but even the best director often can’t direct substandard and lacking story, plot, narrative and dialogue to create a successful film. It’s unclear why Wright chose this troubled, bleak, distressing story as her feature film directing debut.
The production design is beautiful, showcasing some beautiful outdoor scenery, woods and mountains. But even beautiful outdoor scenery can be difficult to enjoy when the accompanying story is so distracting. Thus, the full effect of the nature shots cannot be fully appreciated and enjoyed as it should have been in this movie.
“Land,” alas, doesn’t land as it should in a viewer’s heart. Instead, the movie stands as a lesson in learning that if a film does not properly present a believable story and plot, a solid and firm storytelling foundation, and a likeable lead character, it will indeed bypass people’s hearts.