Brrrrrr. Better bring along your heavy coat to THE CLAIM since it's
palpably cold. Set in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the harsh winter
of 1867, the movie features knee-deep snow and blowing wind that sounds
like a hungry coyote howling at the moon.
Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), a man with a stash of gold that looks like
a miniature Fort Knox, owns and runs the remote mining town of Kingdom
Come in which the story is set. As the story opens, Dillon welcomes
railroad engineer Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley, AMERICAN BEAUTY) to his
rough-and-tumble town. Dalglish is looking for the best place in which
to locate a station for a new railroad line. Dillon, of course, rolls
out the red carpet for Dalglish in hopes that he'll choose Kingdom Come.
In a town with only two visible businesses, a thriving saloon and an
even more prosperous bordello, bribery for the railroad surveying crew
comes in the form of liquor and sex. The rustic town, as photographed
in the warm, dark glow of kerosene lamps by Alwin H. Kuchler, feels
completely authentic. Only the price of rented passion seems a bit out
of line. The base price isn't revealed, but the prostitutes charge $30
extra if the guys want to stay a little longer than normal. $30 an hour
in 1867 money? You do the math. That's a tidy sum. Then, again, as
the adage goes, the real money during the gold rush went to those who
supplied the miners with their "needs."
THE CLAIM is loosely based on Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of
Casterbridge." It being Winterbottom's second Hardy adaptation, I had
really been looking forward to THE CLAIM. His first, JUDE, a fairly
literal adaptation of Hardy's "Jude the Obscure," was on my best of the
year list back in 1996. Although THE CLAIM's dramatic visuals surpass
JUDE, in no other way is it comparable. JUDE had a rich,
character-driven screenplay, but Frank Cottrell Boyce's script for THE
CLAIM leaves the images alone to tell the story. None of the characters
are properly developed. The leads are merely sketched, and the
supporting cast is almost completely ignored. An unrecognizable
Nastassja Kinski, as Daniel's sick wife is the most wasted of all.
Kinski is given little more to do than cough.
The focal point of the story is the extremely lucrative mining claim
that Daniel received years ago in trade for his wife and child, Hope.
Grown now and having come to visit Daniel, Hope is played by Sarah
Polley (THE SWEET HEREAFTER). Hope doesn't know the secret, and the
story's arc obviously leads to the big scene in which she will find out
the truth. Although this event should be the tearful culmination of the
tragedy, it leaves you completely dry eyed since there isn't a single
character worth caring about in THE CLAIM.
THE CLAIM is an impressive exercise in visual style and atmospherics.
It is a shame that it isn't more than that.
THE CLAIM runs 2:03. It is rated R for sexuality and for some language
and violence. It would be acceptable for older teenagers.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes