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The Claim

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Claim

Starring: Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Rated: R
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genres: Romance, Western

*Also starring: Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Julian Richings, Shirley Henderson, Sean McGinley

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Brrrrrr. Better bring along your heavy coat to THE CLAIM since it's palpably cold. Set in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the harsh winter of 1867, the movie features knee-deep snow and blowing wind that sounds like a hungry coyote howling at the moon.

Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), a man with a stash of gold that looks like a miniature Fort Knox, owns and runs the remote mining town of Kingdom Come in which the story is set. As the story opens, Dillon welcomes railroad engineer Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley, AMERICAN BEAUTY) to his rough-and-tumble town. Dalglish is looking for the best place in which to locate a station for a new railroad line. Dillon, of course, rolls out the red carpet for Dalglish in hopes that he'll choose Kingdom Come.

In a town with only two visible businesses, a thriving saloon and an even more prosperous bordello, bribery for the railroad surveying crew comes in the form of liquor and sex. The rustic town, as photographed in the warm, dark glow of kerosene lamps by Alwin H. Kuchler, feels completely authentic. Only the price of rented passion seems a bit out of line. The base price isn't revealed, but the prostitutes charge $30 extra if the guys want to stay a little longer than normal. $30 an hour in 1867 money? You do the math. That's a tidy sum. Then, again, as the adage goes, the real money during the gold rush went to those who supplied the miners with their "needs."

THE CLAIM is loosely based on Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge." It being Winterbottom's second Hardy adaptation, I had really been looking forward to THE CLAIM. His first, JUDE, a fairly literal adaptation of Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," was on my best of the year list back in 1996. Although THE CLAIM's dramatic visuals surpass JUDE, in no other way is it comparable. JUDE had a rich, character-driven screenplay, but Frank Cottrell Boyce's script for THE CLAIM leaves the images alone to tell the story. None of the characters are properly developed. The leads are merely sketched, and the supporting cast is almost completely ignored. An unrecognizable Nastassja Kinski, as Daniel's sick wife is the most wasted of all. Kinski is given little more to do than cough.

The focal point of the story is the extremely lucrative mining claim that Daniel received years ago in trade for his wife and child, Hope. Grown now and having come to visit Daniel, Hope is played by Sarah Polley (THE SWEET HEREAFTER). Hope doesn't know the secret, and the story's arc obviously leads to the big scene in which she will find out the truth. Although this event should be the tearful culmination of the tragedy, it leaves you completely dry eyed since there isn't a single character worth caring about in THE CLAIM.

THE CLAIM is an impressive exercise in visual style and atmospherics. It is a shame that it isn't more than that.

THE CLAIM runs 2:03. It is rated R for sexuality and for some language and violence. It would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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