Land (2021)

Robin Wright stars and directs “Land” which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

We all deal with loss and pain in different ways. For Edee Holzer (Robin Wright) it means a break from society. She leaves Chicago for a solitary life in the wilderness after purchasing an old log cabin on a Wyoming mountaintop. With no survival skills, cellphone, or vehicle, it doesn’t take long to realize she’s out of her element.

As the situation goes from bad to worse, she encounters a local man (Demián Bichir) whose generosity proves to be her salvation. Wright’s directorial debut features memorable performances and beautiful cinematography.

After testing the directorial waters on the critically acclaimed Netflix series “House of Cards,” actress Robin Wright makes her feature film debut behind the camera with “Land” based on the screenplay by Jesse Chatham and frequent Wright collaborator Erin Dignam. In between the series and her new film, Wright also directed the black and white noir short, “The Dark of Night,” starring Leslie Bibb, Sam Rockwell and “Cards” costar Nini Le Huynh.

“Land” begins in the office of a therapist, the session cut short after Edee (Wright) realizes talking about her grief is not the answer. “What are you feeling right now?” she’s asked by the therapist whose monotone delivery feels cold and dispassionate. “I’m feeling its really difficult to be around people because they just want me to be better,” responds Edee before bolting for the door and after admitting she’s only there at the behest of her concerned sister.

Wright portrays Edee as a strong, determined survivor instead of a frail, helpless, emotional wreck — which is what we’d expect from the actress that plays Wonder Woman’s aunt Antiope — so it’s much more impactful when we see Edee break down, screaming like a banshee, after realizing she can’t survive on her own in the wilderness, which can be harsh and brutal.

Going down a checklist that includes tarps, pillows, lanterns, and a sleeping bag, Edee picks up provisions on the way to Quincy to finalize the purchase of a cabin and parcel of land in the Wyoming mountains. She tosses her cellphone in the trash and instructs the realtor to have someone return the rental car and U-Haul, living off the grid for the foreseeable future.

As expected, Edee eventually begins to run out of provisions. She can’t hunt, chop wood, and fishing isn’t working out too well. Just as she’s about to throw in the towel, a kind stranger named Miguel (Bichir) saves her life after performing a welfare check and finding Edee unresponsive on the floor of the freezing cabin.

Miguel brings his friend Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge), a nurse from a nearby Native reservation, to the cabin and together they begin to care for Edee. Despite the close brush with death, Edee remains determined to live on her own, without intervention, and so Miguel offers to teach her how to hunt and survive in the wilderness, promising to never see her again after he’s done.

Shot in the Western Canadian province of Alberta, the beautiful scenery plays a vital role in the film. Director of photography Bobby Bukowski, who worked with Wright on the 2012 thriller “Rampart,” delivers stunning images that include moonlit landscapes, and time-lapse photography. Bukowski’s experience as an avid camper and hiker proved invaluable for getting the perfect shots even under treacherous weather conditions. Trevor Smith’s production design, which includes building the log cabin, is to be commended for going unnoticed. Edee’s cabin looks as though it has been fixated on that mountain for a century when in reality it was built in a parking lot, disassembled, and lugged up the mountain piece by piece.

With the release of Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” right around the corner, isolation seems to be this year’s reoccurring theme. After spending most of 2020 in lockdowns and quarantines, I think we can all relate.

Wright is one of the most underrated and talented actors working today. We fell in love with her in “The Princess Bride” and “Forrest Gump” three decades ago while younger audiences have come to recognize her from the DC Universe. “Land” provides a worthy showcase for Wright whose magnetism pulls you into each scene, many without dialogue or another actor. She has become known for playing strong females with the power of authority, yet that smile always takes me back to Buttercup and Jenny.

We didn’t witness much kindness last year as hatred seemed to rule the law of the land. Wright’s moving feature comes just as decency and civility are on the uprise and so the message behind the film, tragedy begets kindness, is both timely and welcomed.

“Land” also features one of my favorite performances by Demián Bichir who has been entertaining audiences since playing Esteban Reyes on Showtime’s “Weeds.” As Miquel, he brings compassion and empathy to the story as we discover how alike he and Edee are. It’s a superb performance that leaves you wanting more screen time for the good Samaritan. There is a line uttered by Miquel that comes from Chatham’s screenplay that solidified Wright’s commitment to the film. At one point in the story, Edee asks Miguel why he decided to help her. He answers, “You were in my path.” (4 stars)

Opens in theaters Feb. 12 including Cinemark 12 Victoria.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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