The Claim

        
             Director Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce
     have enjoyed a long and fruitful (although not exclusive) collaboration that
     has spanned more than a decade and encompassed such diverse projects
     as
BUTTERFLY KISS, JUDE and WELCOME TO SARAJEVO. As a director,
     Winterbottom never takes the easy road, infusing his movies with an sense
     of immediacy and experience. Using unorthodox camera angles and
     compositions, he draws the audience into whatever the world he is depicting.
     His work owes a debt to masters like Bergman (whom he profiled in two
     documentaries) and Truffaut in its humanistic, unsentimental approach. In
     2000, American audiences were treated to his meditation on a contemporary
     British family in
WONDERLAND and, at the end of the year, THE CLAIM,
     an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel
The Mayor of Castorbridge that
     moved the action to 19th-century California.

             As scripted by Cottrell Boyce,
THE CLAIM finds equivalents to Hardy's
     story. As a youthful Irish immigrant seeking his fortune in the Gold Rush,
     Daniel Dillon sells his Polish-born wife Elena and their daughter Hope to a
     miner named Burn. In return, Dillon receives a claim that eventually yielded
     a fortune in gold, allowing him to build the town of Kingdom Come in the
     Sierra Nevada mountains. The action of the film unfolds some twenty years
     after the transaction when the Gold Rush is a thing of the past. The
     respected Mr. Dillon is the richest man in town, owner of the hotel, saloon,
     and bank. Although he has not forgotten his past, he has forged a romantic
     liaison with Lucia (Milla Jovovich), a saloon singer and brothel owner. For
     the most part, he is content.

             One fateful day, however, brings two arrivals to the town: Donald
     Daglish (Wes Bentley) a surveyor whom Dillon hopes will see fit to
     recommend the railroad to pass through thereby assuring prosperity, and
     his estranged wife (Nastassja Kinski)  and grown daughter (Sarah Polley).
     Elena is now terminally ill and has arrived in the small hamlet hoping her
     estranged husband will agree to provide for Hope.

             Winterbottom and his cinematographer Alwin H Kuchler and production
     designer Ken Rempel were obviously inspired by Robert Altman's seminal
     Western
MCCABE & MRS. MILLER  in capturing the town of Kingdom Come
     in its rustic glory. Shot on location in the Canadian Rockies,
THE CLAIM
     has the feeling of a series of photographs come to life. The natural beauty
     jumps off the screen and the wintry feeling is a perfect complement to
     the story. There's one sequence in which a house is literally carried up a
     mountain that is amazing, recalling the scene of the glass cathedral in
     
OSCAR AND LUCINDA or a similar one in THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE.

             Peter Mullan, who has emerged over the last couple of years as a
     potent screen presence, anchors the film with a strong performance as
     Dillon. He not only captures the swagger of a wealthy self-made man, but
     also mines the reservoirs of guilt Dillon has over his fateful decision.
     Wes Bentley is less effective as the railroad representative and Milla
     Jovovich seems too young to be playing a worldly chanteuse turned brothel
     owner. Nastassja Kinski (who starred in the film version of Hardy's
     
Tess of the D'Urbervilles) lends her fragile beauty to the underwritten role
     of Elena. The amazing Sarah Polley adds yet another fine credit to her
     growing resume. This young Canadian actress rarely strikes a false note
     and her complex rendering of the innocent Hope matches Mullan's work
     as the film's most fully realized.

              THE CLAIM will probably not appeal to every filmgoer's taste. Those
     seeking a truly revisionist take on the American Western should hasten
     to see it as should anyone interested in the fascinating career of one of
     contemporary cinema's most visually imaginative and unsentimentally
     versatile directors.


                                 
Rating:                A-
                                 
MPAA Rating:        R
                                 
Running time:       120 mins.
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.