Ten years ago, actresses struggled to find important leading roles. Today, they are creating more and more of their own. “Land” not only gives Robin Wright a huge canvas to prove herself behind the camera, it also gives us another chance to admire her work in front of her.
In her directorial debut, Wright plays Edee Holzer, a woman clearly shattered by an extremely huge tragedy. At the start of the film, she already gives up her old life by buying a secluded cabin on a Wyoming mountain, throwing her cell phone in the trash, and having her truck towed as soon as it arrives.
These choices are so irrational that one would assume that she chose a place to end her pain. But she also brought the kind of books and camping supplies a city dweller could use in an attempt to survive the stranger. The mountain, of course, only makes fun of her. An angry bear destroys her provisions, books don’t trap her food, and she can’t get much water by soaking plastic bottles in a fast-flowing river.
Whatever his initial intentions, his mission is based on madness. And when she does eventually collapse from hunger and hypothermia (chopping wood also turns out to be a lot harder than she imagined), it seems the end is near.
Her luck turns when a nice stranger comes to see her. The soft-spoken local Miguel (Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”) stops just in time to save Edee, not only physically but spiritually. Although she tries to warn him – she doesn’t want anything to do with humanity anymore – he gives her just enough space to heal. Over the following seasons, he teaches her to live with the land rather than fight against it.
If that sounds trite, well – Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam’s script isn’t very subtle. Indeed, its lack of depth is in stark contradiction to an otherwise refined film. The characters are barely sketched, with supporting turns from Sarah Dawn Pledge and Kim Dickens written to next to nothing. Miguel has a lot of screen time, but he suffers from being a cliché; even Edee calls him Yoda for his terse but cinematic wisdom.
Chatham and Dignam may have felt that Edee’s pain was so deep that a story would be alien. And Wright is able to delve deeper into Edee’s emotions, approaching her sense of loss – and her lost sense of self – with moving and quiet empathy. But since Miguel never feels like a real person and Edee is so contained, we need more.
We get it from cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, who approaches the set with obvious reverence. (The movie was shot in Moose Mountain in Alberta, Canada, and could reasonably be touted by their tourism office.) It often keeps a respectful distance, following Edee through the trees and from afar as if he didn’t want to. bother her, either. But it gives him room to admire these breathtaking panoramas, as they pass from one mercurial season to another. As beautiful as the mountain is, Edee never knows what new surprise will greet her every day. It could be a sunrise and a field of wild flowers. Or it could be a snowstorm and a nasty animal.
The film is so visually striking that it is not surprising that Wright worked with two great editors, Anne McCabe (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”) and Mikkel EG Nielsen (“Sound of Metal”). The heavy-string score by composers Ben Sollee and Time for Three also provides effective support, as it fluctuates in the discreet unison of Edee’s experiences.
It would be nice to see Wright working from a stronger script next time around, but she crosses the line admirably. And for anyone who can’t leave the confines of their own home or neighborhood just yet, “Land” offers simple lessons and stunning scenery that may seem like a welcome balm.
“Land” opens in theaters on February 12, premieres on VOD on March 5.