Land (United States, 2021)

February 17, 2021
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Land Poster

For most of Land, Robin Wright is the only human onscreen, but it would be unfair to say she’s alone. In fact, there are times when the grandeur of the scenery – the Rockies in all their untamed glory – threatens to overwhelm not only the character and narrative, but the viewer’s perception of the film. By turns contemplative and a little too earnest, Land is the story of one woman’s journey from intolerable grief to restoration. If there are times when plot elements seem forced or manipulative, those are easily overlooked because of the precision of Wright’s acting and the assuredness of her directorial feature debut.

The movie opens with Wright’s character, Edee, deep in the throes of grief. We aren’t provided with the specifics of her turmoil – those are doled out over the course of the next 90 minutes and never in great detail – but we recognize that she has lost those nearest and dearest to her and, despite the well-meaning help of her sister, Emma (Kim Dickens), she can’t find any path back to normalcy. Her unconventional solution is to buy a parcel of land far from humanity and transfer the business of living to a small, off-the-grid cabin that is devoid of running water and electricity. No cell phones, Internet, or any of the trappings of civilization. She brings along a carload of non-perishable provisions then, in what amounts to a suicide pact with the elements, pays a man to take away her vehicle, leaving her isolated in the middle of nowhere with no escape route. She will either become the kind of survivalist that Bear Grylls would applaud or die trying. One wonders, considering her mindset, whether she might prefer the latter alternative. To her way of thinking, there’s nothing left to live for.

She almost doesn’t – live, that is. If not for the timely intervention of Miguel (Demian Bichir), a local hunter wandering his own personal trail of tears, the elements would finish her off. With the help of a local nurse (Sarah Dawn Pledge), he brings Edee back from the brink, then offers her a crash course in how to live in the wilderness. This includes proper fire-making techniques to keep the cabin warm and lessons in hunting to keep her belly full. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t devolve into a romance, but Edee and Miguel develop a deep platonic friendship. In return for his help, she gives him something he couldn’t get from anyone else.

Land works both as a character study and an examination of grief. The locale is visually stunning but uncompromising in the way it treats the unprepared. The film quickly dispels the romanticism attached to “off the grid” living by emphasizing that being uninitiated is the quickest way to a painful death. By all rights, Edee shouldn’t have survived her ordeal. Kismet, in the person of Miguel, makes the difference and ultimately sets her on the right path.

Wright, who admits having learned aspects of her craft from David Fincher (who was instrumental in bringing House of Cards to Netflix; the streaming show also provided Wright with her first opportunities behind the camera), directs with surity, although there are occasions when the sleight-of-hand is evident (most notably when a bear invades the cabin – the sequence feels choreographed and won’t have anyone making comparisons to The Revenant). As an actress, she traverses the emotional road effectively and her easygoing chemistry with Birchir allows for a welcome warmth to erupt through the frozen tundra of Edee’s psyche.

The decision not to focus overmuch on Edee’s background proves to be the right one. Not only does it avoid bogging down the proceedings with flashbacks but it allows us to follow Edee in the moment without dwelling on the person she was. The movie isn’t about the impact the incident had on her or the way it destroyed her previous life; it’s about coming out of the ruins and discovering renewal. (This is an opposite approach to the one taken by the devastating In the Fade. Both films are very different in their eventual trajectories despite the main characters experiencing similarly transformative events.)

Land is both a tribute to the triumph of the human spirit and an examination of the difficulties of setting aside modern conveniences for primitive survival. It also represents an announcement by Wright that her first feature foray behind the camera is unlikely to be her last.

Land (United States, 2021)

Director: Robin Wright
Cast: Robin Wright, Demian Bichir, Sarah Dawn Pledge, Kim Dickens
Home Release Date: 2021-05-11
Screenplay: Jess Chatham, Erin Dignam
Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski
Music: Time for Three, Ben Sollee
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2021-02-12
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Adult Situations, Partial Nudity)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1