The Claim

'Bleak' is the best word to describe The Claim, director Michael Winterbottom's loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. Winterbottom (With or Without You, Wonderland) and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Welcome to Sarajevo, Hilary and Jackie) move things to 1869 California. Kingdom Come, California is a small town in the Sierra Nevadas, led by Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullen, Miss Julie, My Name is Joe). The Central Pacific Railroad is surveying the area, looking for the right place to lay track. A route through Kingdom Come would ensure the survival and economic vitality of the town for generations to come, while no track would mean the town's imminent death.

Dillon pulls out all the stops for Dalglish (Wes Bentley, Soul Survivors, American Beauty), the head surveyor. Everybody realizes that Dalglish holds the future of the town in his hands, including Dalglish himself. Elena (Nastassja Kinski, Town and Country, Your Friends and Neighbors) and her daughter Hope (Sarah Polley, Guinevere, Last Night) arrive in town with Dalglish. The origins of Kingdom Come tie in with Dillon's estrangement from Elena, his wife, which become clear partway into the movie. Hope is their daughter, although Elena and Dillon are the only two people who know. The passage of time changed Dillon, once a struggling miner, to the point that reconciliation with his wife now may be possible.

At its heart, The Claim is a movie about Dillon's redemption as a father and a leader. The arrival of Elena and Hope forces him to rethink everything about his life. He is currently living with Lucia (Milla Jovovich, The Messenger, The Million Dollar Hotel), the local brothel owner. The future of Kingdom Come is tied to the future of Dillon. He does not realize that he is the emotional heart of the town. There is a certain inevitability about the film, and many of the performances are subdued somewhat along these lines.

This is also a western, although it may not look like it. Winterbottom covers Kingdom Come in snow. The setting is sparse, lending a sense of futility and hopelessness. Dalglish and Hope arrive, bringing their own sense of hope to the town. Dalglish brings the potential for survival, and Hope brings forgiveness for Dillon. All this snow also manages to stifle some of the tension within The Claim. Two hours feels long, especially with Winterbottom's penchant here for shots that sometimes linger. The end of the movie brings events of near-Biblical proportions, but the inherent power of these acts and their consequences loses much of its drama.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, Rated R for sexuality, some language and violence.

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