Land (2021)

I don’t know whether it is something that is reflecting the state of the world in over the last couple of years or just pure coincidence, but a lot of the movies I’ve been watching recently have been about isolation in one form or another. The likes of Stowaway, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Woman In The Window and, of course, Best Picture winning Nomadland have all centred around characters away from society, either faced with tough decisions or reeling from personal tragedy. That trend looks to be continuing into the year, starting with Land, a landmark project for Robin Wright, her directorial debut.

Land tells the story of Edee Holzer (Robin Wright), a middle aged woman who, after suffering the loss of her son and husband in a senseless tragedy, decides to cut ties with the wider world and retreats to an isolated cabin in the Wyoming wilderness. Ill prepared and initially reluctant to ask for any help in the desperate throws of winter, Edee is eventually saved by Miguel Borrás (Demián Bichir), a local hunter whose friendship helps to heal her wounds, both physical and emotional.

I’ll start with the things about I like about the film. Bucking the trend of most movies these days, Land comes in under the 90 minute mark, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is as a viewer. There’s no fat on the film at all, and the story benefits from a brisk pace that doesn’t mess around with exposition. The narrative isn’t overflowing with information, and that reflects Edee’s reluctance to revisit her past.

This was an incredibly shrewd move by Robin Wright as a directorial debut, because any failings in capturing the more intimate, sensitive moments of the film are compensated for by countless stunning shots of the mountain wilderness. Filmed in Canada but framed as Wyoming, the natural landscape of the film is very much a character in its own right, and Wright does a really good job of shooting it in a way that really emphasises the characters’ detachment from the ‘real world’.

Runtime and mountain visuals aside, however, I do have to say that Land as a whole isn’t the most successful picture. The heart of the film is supposed to be this devastating emotional trauma that Edee is simultaneously trying to run and heal from, but for me, none of that trauma ever gets explored beyond surface level. The film crosses into over-sentimentality in its final third, which is something that I’m not particularly a fan of. I know it’s probably unfair to compare the film to Nomadland, but whilst everything in that movie came with a layer of authenticity, Land very much feels like an actress playing at wilderness survival. Nothing feels as gritty or desperate as it should, I’m not sure Edee’s hair ever looks greasy, not does her supposedly starving body look anything but perfect. Those small details result in the movie always *feeling* like a movie, if you know what I mean, and that elevating level of creating an authentic universe is never truly achieved.

Spending much the film alone as the only character on screen, Robin Wright is a magnetic presence. Edee is a woman going through unimaginable pain, and whilst I’m not sure that Wright completely manages to tap into the extreme depths of that pain, she is effortlessly watchable throughout and doesn’t look out of place as a woman in the wilderness. Wright is great at the kind of middle distance stare into the landscape, and there is ample opportunity for that style of acting here. On the directing side of things, her debut effort is totally solid, with, as I said, a lot of beautiful scenery to work with. She clearly has an eye for establishing shots and a talent for keeping good pace, but in Land at least, getting to the authentic heart of the emotional matters is still a work in progress.

Demián Bichir as Miguel provides an archetypal stoic yet heart of gold presence, the kind of character that is necessary for Edee’s arc to be completed. The pair share a quiet but comfortable chemistry on screen, and it is refreshing to see a narrative that doesn’t take the cliched romance route and sticks to a more platonic connection instead. Land is very much a film about Edee’s journey, but the addition of Miguel as a true friend and mentor along the way definitely adds something to the story.

Overall, Land is a solid directorial debut from Robin Wright, and she backs the direction up with a good performance that, whilst not being career defining, is certainly engaging. The film won’t be remembered as a classic of its genre, but if you enjoy the likes of Wild, then it’s probably worth a watch. There are certainly impressive aspects of the film as a whole, but it’s probably best to come for the sweeping landscapes rather than the most nuanced examination of grief.

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