Land Overview: Robin Wright creates a gorgeous therapeutic story
‘Land’ plays out as you’d expect, but that doesn’t diminish its impact.
Robin Wright has had an impressive acting career that spanned classics such as The princess bride to thoughtful indies like The Congress to the first streaming hit House of cards. She is now making her directorial debut country, a calm, characterful drama that uses Wyoming’s beautiful landscape as a rifle scope without losing sight of the human stakes at the heart of its story. It’s the kind of film that might be a light mockery (“Buttercup goes camping har har har”), yet the seriousness of the main appearances by Wright and co-star Demián Bichir always keeps us captivated in this beautiful story of friendship and salvation.
Edee (Wright) has decided to become a hermit living on the land after a devastating personal tragedy. She basically lives on the verge of suicide but has made a promise to her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) not to inflict self-harm. Instead, she decides to try a cabin in the remote Wyoming wilderness, but is ill-equipped to survive in such a place. She comes close to death until she meets the local hunter Miguel (Bichir). Although Edee is cautious about making new bonds, she and Miguel begin a friendship when he teaches her not only how to live in the wild, but how to live in the world again.
Land is an almost overwhelmingly simple story, and maybe at another time and place I wouldn’t have the patience for it. If this were my fifth film of the day on the sixth day of the Sundance Film Festival that I was there personally and exhausted, I might not fall for its charms. But I saw it at home (where Sundance will be this year as it’s done digitally) and I’ve seen it after being locked inside for almost a year with no human connection. Between this and Nomad landI am fully and completely ready to admit that I can easily be won over by any film in which a protagonist goes outside, absorbs the natural beauty of our country and makes new friends. That reality turned into a fantasy during COVID, but it is a fantasy that can be fulfilled on the other side of this pandemic.
But the movie’s charm also has to be attributed to Wright, who never has to overwhelm the audience or rely on stylization to tell her story. This type of film uses direct and effective cinematography to convey information like the beginning of the film, in which an emotionally distant Edee is filmed in dark interiors while the bright, sunlit surroundings of her surroundings glow in the background. Wright knows what she’s doing, and instead of just aiming for beautiful compositions (and the place gives her plenty of them), she’s always based on Edee’s emotional state and growth. This, along with the reliably great performances of Wright and Bichir, makes for a movie where we’re invested in the characters, although we can see how the story is likely to play out.
I am also grateful that Land is not about twists and turns or revelations. The narrative is straight like an arrow, and there is something comforting about this basic story of pain and healing through personal growth and kind relationships. Land may not be particularly deep, but not every indie drama has to be complex and layered if it hits the right emotional notes. In her first film behind the camera, Wright plays these notes like an old pro.
For more reviews of Sundance 2021, please visit the links below:
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About the author
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Matt Goldberg has been an editor at Collider since 2007. As the site’s Chief Film Critic, he has written hundreds of reviews and covered major film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and their dog Jack.
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