×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Claim

Inspired by Thomas Hardy's fable "The Mayor of Casterbridge," "The Claim" boasts the physical scale and formal beauty of an epic Western, but it suffers from a slim and fractured narrative, unengaging mode of storytelling and yet another irritating performance from Milla Jovovich.

With:
Dillon - Peter Mullan Dalglish - Wes Bentley Lucia - Milla Jovovich Elena - Nastassja Kinski Hope - Sarah Polley Bellinger - Julian Richings Sweetley - Sean McGinley

Inspired by Thomas Hardy’s fable “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” “The Claim” boasts the physical scale and formal beauty of an epic Western, but it suffers from a slim and fractured narrative, unengaging mode of storytelling and yet another irritating performance from Milla Jovovich. Set in 1867, after the Gold Rush, amid the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this tale of love, greed, revenge and redemption aims to provide poignant commentary on the making of California as a unique element in American history and mythology. Unfortunately, helmer Michael Winterbottom’s second foray into Hardy country is as severely flawed and as commercially problematic as his first, “Jude.” MGM faces an uphill battle in positioning a muddled period piece among the top guns of a particularly crowded theatrical season.

Hopping from genre to genre, Winterbottom is an ambitious British filmmaker who has established a reputation for tackling difficult material in an innovative way. But on the evidence of his half-dozen pictures, he’s clearly more adept at telling modern stories, such as “Welcome to Sarajevo” and “Wonderland,” than historical sagas on the order of “Jude” or “The Claim.”

Adapting Hardy to the bigscreen has always presented a difficult challenge for filmmakers, with John Schlesinger’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” (1967) and Roman Polanski’s “Tess” (1980) probably faring best.

New pic’s protagonist is Dillon (Peter Mullan), a rugged Irish pioneer who tackled the harsh landscape in search of gold. At story’s outset, he’s a tough patriarch who, having amassed great wealth, runs a mining town, Kingdom Come, where he owns every institution: the bank, the mines, the hotel, even the liquor store.

In the early scenes, Dillon is seen with Lucia (Jovovich), an exotic Portuguese chanteuse and brothel owner with whom he’s having an affair. Things change dramatically when three outsiders arrive in town. Dalglish (“American Beauty’s” Wes Bentley) is a young, handsome surveyor with ambitions of expanding the Central Pacific Railroad, which threatens Dillon’s rule as well as the future of his town.

The two other strangers are Elena (Nastassja Kinski), a sickly though still beautiful Polish immigrant, and her daughter, Hope (Sarah Polley). Their presence also threatens the town’s stability and Dillon’s welfare, though in a very different way. Brief flashbacks interspersed in the narrative suggest their link to Dillon’s past, a connection that continues to haunt him despite efforts at reconciliation. Tale is structured around a family secret and how it affects the new, tangled relationships among a quintet of characters whose affairs of the heart often clash with their business interests.

Those familiar with Hardy’s sprawling 1886 novel will be vastly disappointed with Winterbottom’s rendition. Hardy employed a naturalistic method to depict the rustic life, with colorful speech and vivid characters among the bumpkins of Casterbridge; these details are missing from the screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (a frequent Winterbottom collaborator who also wrote “Hilary and Jackie”). As with “Jude,” the dialogue is anachronistic, marred by language that’s neither authentic for its historic setting nor modern in a manner that will speak to contempo viewers.

Worse, all the main characters are simplistically drawn, each with one dominant attribute, particularly the women. Lucia is lusty and aggressive; Elena, mostly seen in bed, is associated with agony and pain; Hope is a naive innocent representing a better future. The only fully rounded character is Dillon, and Mullan’s multishaded performance accounts for the few interesting scenes in the film.

There’s a huge gap between the texture of the outdoor scenes, which are all about stark beauty, and the indoor ones, which aim for intense lyricism. On a superficial level, “The Claim” recalls Robert Altman’s richly moody “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” also set in winter, though in the turn-of-the-century Northwest. Like that 1971 Western, which depicted a doomed romance between a gambler and a drug-addicted madam, “The Claim” explores the collision of dreams and reality, the inevitability of change propelled by new technology and new mores.

Though not as distinguished as Vilmos Zsigmond’s lensing for Altman’s dreamy epic, Alwin Kuchler’s cinematography provides moments of visual pleasure, with spectacular long shots of the land, the building of the railroads, and the dragging of fully constructed wood houses uphill by horse. In all fairness, the film deserves credit for trying to portray a different kind of West from what’s been the norm in Hollywood’s sagas: a multiracial, dynamically in-flux, gritty landscape — and truly America’s last frontier.

The Claim

U.K.-Canada

Production: An MGM release of a United Artists presentation of a Revolution Films production, in association with Pathe Pictures, the Arts Council of England, Le Studio Canal Plus, the BBC and Alliance Atlantis. Produced by Andrew Eaton. Executive producers, Martin Katz, Alexis Lloyd, Andrea Calderwood. Co-producer, Douglas Berquist. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Screenplay, Frank Cottrell Boyce, inspired by the novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, Trevor Waite; music, Michael Nyman; production designers, Mark Tildesley, Ken Rempel; set decorator, Paul Healy; costume designer, Joanne Hansen; sound (Dolby Digital), George Tarrant; supervising sound editor, Ian Wilson; line producer, Anita Overland; assistant director, Nick Laws; casting, Wendy Brazington, Billy Hopkins, Suzanne Smith, Kerry Barden, Deb Green (Canada). Reviewed at MGM screening room, Santa Monica, Nov. 27, 2000. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 120 MIN.

With: Dillon - Peter Mullan Dalglish - Wes Bentley Lucia - Milla Jovovich Elena - Nastassja Kinski Hope - Sarah Polley Bellinger - Julian Richings Sweetley - Sean McGinley

More Film

  • Playwright Mark Medoff author of "Children

    Mark Medoff, 'Children of a Lesser God' Playwright, Dies at 79

    Mark Medoff, the playwright who wrote Tony Award-winning play “Children of a Lesser God,” died Tuesday in Las Cruces, N.M. He was 79. His daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman posted news of his death on Facebook, and the Las Cruces Sun-News attributed the cause to cancer. “Children of a Lesser God” starred John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Interscope Films Relaunches With Full Slate at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Interscope record label’s interest in film/music crossover isn’t exactly a secret: With hit companion albums for “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther” and “La La Land,” they’ve seemed to own the soundtrack space at times in recent years. And the company hasn’t completely made a secret of its desire to move into film production. [...]

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame': Fans and Theaters Assemble for Biggest Marvel Movie Ever

    For San Diego resident Shawn Richter, “Avengers: Endgame” is more than the conclusion to a monumental period in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the West Coast branch chair of Avengers Initiative, a cosplay charity that raises money for causes like the Ronald McDonald House Children’s Charities, the comics of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are [...]

  • Jillian Bell appears in Brittany Runs

    Amazon's 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' Sets Summer Release

    “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will be rushing to theaters on Aug. 23. Amazon Studios dated the comedy on Wednesday. The pic, starring Jillian Bell (“Rough Night,” “22 Jump Street”), won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival. The flick follows the titutal Brittany, who decides to run around New York City in order to [...]

  • Lionsgate Hires Lynn Whitney in Marketing

    Lionsgate Hires Former Warner Bros. Exec Lynn Whitney

    Lionsgate announced Wednesday that Lynn Whitney will become head of worldwide paid media, partnerships, promotions and consumer products. Whitney was formerly the executive VP of worldwide media at Warner Bros.   In her new role, Whitney will build out media campaigns for movies like Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron’s romantic comedy “Long Shot.” “I am [...]

  • El silencio de otros

    Film Review: 'The Silence of Others'

    “Forgiven but not forgotten” is a platitude we routinely use to end disputes both petty and grievous, but it’s the reverse outcome — the mass forgetting of crimes and conflicts never truly resolved — that itches away at a post-Franco Spain in “The Silence of Others.” Soberly chronicling the ongoing legal battle of General Franco’s [...]

  • A Womans Work-The NFLs Cheerleader Problem

    Tribeca Documentaries Explore Gender Issues in Sport

    Up until recently, what it meant to be a professional female athlete in a world dominated by men wasn’t an issue that garnered high volumes of public interest, let alone national headlines. But that all changed in October 2017 when stories from the New York Times and the New Yorker detailing sexual allegations and improper [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content