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Movie Review: The Claim

Story: What separates a hit from a miss? Hmmm! Let me count the ways... This film had a lot going for it. The incredible beauty of the location shots (Alberta, Canada and Colorado), a credible cast, and as a source, the Thomas Hardy novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. So what happened? Well, it just drags on and on. After one hour I started looking at my watch and fidgeting in my seat. (Movie pal, Mark and I, kept crashing our feet into one another from all of our fidgeting.) I thought my watch had broken because time simply stood still. The story's elements had promise, even though much had been changed from the book. The wealthy Mayor of the town, Kingdom Come (don't you just love that name)? made his fortune through a gold claim (it is 1867, in the wintry California High Sierras) and hides a dirty little secret about his claim and his past (who doesn't)? There's still gold in them thar hills, the coming of the railroad and the imminent changes about to take place in America when the railroad finally connects both coasts. We also have prostitutes, a dying (a la Streep) wife, a pouty daughter and lots and lots of snow. The story gets muddled and wanders all over the place. Director Michael Winterbottom (quite an appropriate name for a film like this) and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce missed a great opportunity by throwing way too much into the film. I ended up not caring about any character except for the wealthy Mayor. There were too many under-developed characters and not enough story. However, if you like visually stunning landscapes, period pieces and an affection and interest in how people lived in this climate and time period this film could be for you. But be warned, wear a sweater - because you can get very cold looking at all of that snow.

Acting: Scottish actor Peter Mullan (My Name is Joe) is fabulous as the Mayor. Milla Jovovich, as the Madam made me squirm (but I did like her authentic looking gold tooth). Nastassia Kinski, as the dying wife (remember her in Hardy's Tess)? was adequate while coughing up blood for much of the film. Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter) as the daughter. was very annoying and much too contemporary in language and look for her part to work for me. And finally, Wes Bentley (the young hottie from American Beauty) looked uncomfortable in this period piece and I did not buy his role at all - but I did like looking at him.

Critters: Hard working livestock and lots and lots of horses.

Food: Food seems to have been replaced with booze in the High Sierras.

Visual Art: The landscape was a visual treat.

Blatant Product Placement: It is 1867 - I am not sure any company could really work their product into this period piece but I am sure they tried.)

Soundtrack: Heavy on the violins.

Opening Titles: None

Theater Audience: An odd mix. There was a handful of twenty something's (they sat very far up front). A bunch of my contemporaries. A little of this and a little of that. It was the first time in a long time that I could not get a fix'on the crowd, which is interesting by itself.

Squirm Scale: I just squirmed in my seat because I am a squirmer.

Predictability Level: High (even without knowing the story).

Tissue Usage: I had one tear (not tissue worthy)

Oscar Worthy: No

Nit Picking: I know that the use of out of focus images is supposed to be artsy but there were too many beginnings and endings of scenes where the images were out of focus. I thought at times the cinematographer might have fallen asleep and I just wanted to rub my eyes to clear up the picture.

Big Screen or Rental: Who cares? But you might consider renting some of the other movies I mentioned in the acting category where these stars really do shine. The Sweet Hereafter, My Name is Joe, 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and for laughs, Messenger, The Story of Joan of Arc.

Length: 2 very long hours.