‘Land’ plays out pretty much as you’d expect it to, but that doesn’t diminish its impact.
Robin Wright has had an impressive acting career ranging from classics like The Princess Bride to thoughtful indies like The Congress to the first streaming hit with House of Cards. She now makes her directorial debut with Land, a quiet, character-driven drama that uses Wyoming’s gorgeous scenery for scope while never losing sight of the human stakes at the core of its story. It’s the kind of movie that could invite easy derision (“Buttercup goes camping har har har”), and yet the earnestness of the lead performances from Wright and co-star Demián Bichir always keeps us riveted in this lovely story of friendship and redemption.
Edee (Wright) has decided to become a hermit living off the land following a devastating personal tragedy. She’s basically living on the verge of suicide but made a promise to her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) not to inflict any self-harm. Instead, she decides to make a go of it living in a cabin in the secluded Wyoming wilderness, but is ill-equipped to survive in such a place. She comes close to death until she meets local hunter Miguel (Bichir). Although Edee is cautious of forging any new bonds, she and Miguel begin a friendship as he teaches her not only how to live in the wild, but how to live again in the world.
Land is an almost overwhelming simple story, and perhaps in a different time and place I wouldn’t have the patience for it. Perhaps if this were my fifth movie of the day on Day 6 of the Sundance Film Festival where I was there in person and exhausted, I wouldn’t fall for its charms. But I saw it at home (where Sundance will be this year as it’s conducted digitally) and I saw it after almost a year of being cooped up indoors and missing human connection. Between this and Nomadland, I’m fully willing to admit that I can easily be won over by any movie where a protagonist goes outdoors, takes in the natural beauty of our country, and makes new friends. That reality has now morphed into a fantasy during COVID, but it’s a fantasy that can be fulfilled on the other side of this pandemic.
But credit for the film’s charm must also go to Wright, who never needs to overwhelm the audience or lean on stylization to tell her story. This is the kind of movie that uses direct and effective cinematography to convey information like early in the movie where an emotionally distant Edee is filmed in dark interiors while the bright sunlit environs of her surroundings shine in the background. Wright knows what she’s doing, and rather than solely aiming for nice compositions (and the location gives her plenty of those), she’s always grounded in Edee’s emotional state and growth. That, coupled with the reliably terrific performances from Wright and Bichir, make for a movie where we’re invested in the characters even though we can see how the story will likely unfold.
I’m also grateful that Land isn’t about twists or reveals. The narrative is straight as an arrow, and there’s something comforting in this basic tale of pain and healing through personal growth and goodhearted 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 movie behind the camera, Wright plays those notes like an old pro.
For more of our Sundance 2021 reviews, check out the links below:
It’s double the trouble with Reynolds and Ruffalo.
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