×

Sundance Film Review: ‘The Land’

Four Cleveland friends look for a way out of poverty in writer-director Steven Caple Jr.'s promising if uneven debut.

With:
Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Moises Arias, Rafi Gavron, Ezri Walker, Kim Coates, Linda Emond, Natalie Martinez, Erykah Badu, Michael Kenneth Williams, Colson Baker.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5164412/

A young man trying to do the right thing keeps getting pulled in all the wrong directions in “The Land,” a dispatch from Cleveland youth culture that marks a promising if uneven debut for writer-director Steven Caple Jr. Falling into the common first-feature trap of trying to do too much at once, Caple’s film follows a group of friends, select members of their families and a drug queenpin, but only newcomer Jorge Lendeborg Jr. truly captivates as the de facto lead. The involvement of hip-hop stars Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly) in a small role and Nas as exec producer of the film and soundtrack will be the main selling points for an otherwise modest picture.

Cisco (Lendeborg) feels as hopeless as many inner-city kids his age, desperate to find a way out of his dead-end home and school life. Together with friends Junior (Moises Arias), Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron) and Boobie (Ezri Walker), he spends his free time skateboarding and filming tricks and stunts. Although they’re good kids (and racially diverse in a way the film never makes a big deal of), they’ve taken to stealing cars to sell for quick cash. When they rip off a mid-level drug dealer one night, Cisco sees an opportunity to make even more money off the Molly stashed in the dealer’s trunk.

Convincing his more cautious pals that they can use the profits to enter a major skateboarding competition and escape the ghetto, Cisco doesn’t realize he’s about to face a formidable obstacle in the form of local crime boss Momma (Linda Emond). A middle-aged white woman who hides her drug enterprise behind a legitimate food-stand business, Momma is purportedly inspired by a real person but never feels as credible as similarly unconventional villains recently essayed by Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”), Margo Martindale (“Justified”) and Jean Smart (“Fargo”).

It’s unclear if Emond, a fine Tony-nominated actress also seen at Sundance this year in “Indignation,” simply isn’t right for the part, or if Caple fails to give the character the right material to demonstrate why she commands immediate deference and respect on the streets. Assume the latter, since a similar sketchiness and feeling of missed opportunity accompanies every major adult character in the film, from Cisco’s sleazy diner-proprietor uncle (Kim Coates), to the spaced-out prostitute (Erykah Badu) who frequents that diner, to Boobie’s hard-working father (Michael Kenneth Williams).

Williams’ presence is an especially mixed blessing — he instantly elevates his too few scenes opposite Cleveland native Walker, but also serves as a further reminder of how similar this material is to HBO’s landmark drama “The Wire,” particularly the fourth season, with its focus on kids trapped in the depressing cycle of urban poverty. Caple can’t possibly deliver the nuances of character and storytelling present in those 13 hours, but even without the lofty comparisons, “The Land” feels a few drafts away from succeeding on its own terms.

Still, there’s enough on screen, beyond Lendeborg’s confident star turn, to label Caple as a filmmaker to watch. Slick cinematography by Steven Holleran captures the skateboarding action with appropriate cool and the urban locales with the requisite grit, and Caple has a real feel for the city of Cleveland (rarely asked to play itself on film) that might have been better served by a more tightly focused story.

Sundance Film Review: 'The Land'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 26, 2016. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: A Priority Pictures presentation, in association with Macro Media and Low Spark Films. Produced by Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder, Greg Little, Tyler Davidson, Stephen Love, Blake Pickens. Executive producers, Charles King, Poppy Hanks, Nasir "Nas" Jones, Jennifer Levine, Kevin Flanigan, Nicolaas Bertelsen. Co-­producers, Laurence Ducceschi, Rachel Lauder, Drew Sykes.

Crew: Directed, written by Steven Caple Jr. Camera (color, HD), Steven Holleran; editor, Saira Haider; music, Jongnic Bontemps; production designer, Lisa Myers; set decorator, Teresa Strebler; costume designer, Ciara Whaley; sound, Paddy Hanlon; sound designer, Jan Bezouska; re-recording mixers, Ken S. Polk; visual effects supervisor, Gregory Jones; stunt coordinator, K.J. Phelps; associate producer, Katie Koeblitz; assistant director, Michelle Milette; casting, JC Cantu.

With: Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Moises Arias, Rafi Gavron, Ezri Walker, Kim Coates, Linda Emond, Natalie Martinez, Erykah Badu, Michael Kenneth Williams, Colson Baker.

More Film

  • Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour'

    Naomi Watts Thriller 'The Wolf Hour' Picked Up for U.S. by Brainstorm Media

    “The Wolf Hour,” a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts and Jennifer Ehle, has been picked up for North America by Brainstorm Media. HanWay Films has also closed sales for a host of European and Asian territories. Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin, “The Wolf Hour” features Oscar-nominated Watts as June, a former countercultural celebrity who lives [...]

  • A Star Is Born

    'A Star Is Born' Soundtrack Surpasses Global Sales of 6 Million

    Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s onscreen chemistry continues to be felt on the official soundtrack to “A Star is Born,” which just surpassed 6 million albums sold globally and has been certified double platinum in the U.S. Released by Interscope Records in 2018, the album debuted atop the charts and remains the highest-selling album of [...]

  • monty-python-are-fifty-in-2019

    Previously Unreleased Monty Python Audio to Get Airing for Troupe's 50th Anniversary

    Michael Palin will exec-produce series of radio specials containing never-before-released audio from Monty Python as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for the iconic comedy troupe. They will play on the BBC in the U.K. and then go out in the U.S. Palin and his fellow Pythons – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Huayi Brothers' Stock Falls 8% After 'The Eight Hundred' Cancellation

    Huayi Brothers’ stock fell by more than 8% on Wednesday, the day after the veteran Chinese studio announced that its new war epic, “The Eight Hundred,” will not hit Chinese theaters as scheduled next week. Shares dropped from RMB5.48 to RMB5.02 overnight after Huayi said Tuesday that its summer blockbuster’s theatrical debut would be indefinitely [...]

  • Chinese actor Xu Zheng holds his

    Golden Horse Organizers Set Clashing Date With China's Golden Rooster Awards

    The prestigious Golden Horse Awards announced Wednesday that it will hold its annual ceremony in Taiwan on the same day this year as China’s Communist-backed Golden Rooster Awards – which virtually assures that no major mainland Chinese talent will attend the event known as Asia’s Oscars on November 23. Hong Kong director Johnnie To will [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival Placeholder Berlinale

    Key Berlin Film Festival Venue Set to Close - or Is It?

    The announcement that German exhibitor CineStar would close its multiplex at Berlin’s famed Sony Center in Potsdamer Platz has thrown the cinema’s participation as a key venue for the Berlin Film Festival into doubt. Whether it actually shutters, however, remains to be seen. British-based Vue International is awaiting approval from German antitrust officials on its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content