Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge has been transplanted to the edge of the American frontier in this vivid drama that didn't receive the theatrical exposure it deserved. Although top young actors adorn the movie's a... more »ds, the central character--Daniel Dillon, a man who runs the gold rush town of Kingdom Come--is played by little-known Peter Mullen. In the dead of winter in 1849, three people arrive in town, changing irrevocably Dillon's life. One is Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley), the clear-thinking leader of a railroad prospect crew who will determine where the railroad line--and a new line of wealth--will be built. The others are a mother and daughter (Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley) who have a past connection to Dillon and the knowledge of how he became rich. As events unfold--in pure Hardy fashion--Dillon finds himself facing a crossroads, with one path leading to redemption. The cast is uniformly brilliant, but special praise must go to Mullen, who carries the film's dramatic weight, and to Bentley, who is so composed in a role completely dissimilar to his breakthrough work in American Beauty. Director Michael Winterbottom (who adapted another Hardy piece with his film Jude) and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler have fashioned their film after Robert Altman's landmark McCabe and Mrs. Miller in the natural, earthy feel of a frontier town. The film opened in 2000 and deservedly appeared on a few top 10 lists, then was rereleased the following year. --Doug Thomas« less
Richard W. (rewfilmmaker) from NAPLES, FL Reviewed on 10/7/2012...
This is a well-done film about the struggles in the late 1800's between a small mining town in the Sierra Nevada and the Central Pacific Railroad. It is not your typical American western however and takes a refreshing approach. The central plot revolves around an ambitious miner man who trades his family for a gold claim and become wealthy as a result. The movie tracks how he deals with the conflict he faces and how fate brings his past back around. The cinematography is first class and the acting is first rate. I particularly liked when Milla Jovovich's character referenced "Lochinvar" subtly demonstrating her erudition in the midst of the rough and tumble frontier. Her main job was the proprietor of the town whorehouse. This movie has the look and feel of Cold Mountain.
A Hardy Spin on the American Western
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 11/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One of the most remarkable adaptations of a literary work I've seen. Frank Cottrell Boyce completely changes Thomas Hardy's classic The Mayor of Casterbridge - and actually betters it lifting it from its original setting and tailoring it into a tale of the American West during the Gold Rush. Some of Hardy's holes hold (predictable) difficulty for many modern readers, but Boyce's western retelling fills them in and lends strong plausibility. (There's a tad too much "faint, fall ill and die" for me in the Hardy original). Some have complained that Boyce went too far - but this is a movie "based" on the book not claiming to be a faithful retelling.
Director Michael Winterbottom proves to have an enormous eye emerging in bold style at once stylized and natural. He brings us here images that, once seen, burn, linger and haunt forever be it a Victorian mansion hauled across the frozen plains or a horse's immolation as on fire it gallops across the screen.
Winterbottom's cast is a strong one - none remaining as they initially seem, each changing before our eyes. Kinski, first strong and bitter gives one of her most tender heartbreaking performances, Wes Bentley, likeable and promising becomes petty and meddlesome. Milla Jovovich serves up, predictably, hearty and hot, yet more delicate than she would like to appear.
In all of this Peter Mullan's Daniel Dillon is the focus and the fulcrum by which the story hinges. He is never less than masterful. To see him early on nearly ravaged by youthful greed then watch him in age yearn for salvation that may never come or come too late, one cannot help but be riveted by his endeavor to make up by his plight and his attempt to change it.
The Claim is a remarkable film which, while it may take a bit of time to warm up to, burns its own unique reward in a way few modern Hollywood films can. "
Flight Risk (The Gypsy Moth) | usa | 11/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the West as I imagine it actually was, rough, unrefined, and brutal. Similar in tone to DAYS OF HEAVEN, another bit of American history, THE CLAIM is told in unsentimental bleak fact; nobody is spared, and there are no real winners except the railroad.
Daniel Dillon arrives in the wilds of Northern California during the gold rush with his wife and infant daughter in hopes of making a fortune in the gold fields. They arrive at a claim shack, cold, hungry, and out of hope and are taken in by the claimer, and in short order, Dillon unsentimentally sells his family to the lonely miner for the claim. The wife, Elena, aware that she has little say, goes with her new master, but does not close the door on Dillon.
Years later, we find that Dillon has made a go of things with his claim; he has built a town called Kingdom Come, wrested out of the mountains virtually by himself, a rough-and-ready place without amenities beyond the ubiquitous saloon and whorehouse to supply the miners. A survey crew appears; negotiations are begun to possibly bring the newly-constructed railroad through Kingdom Come and establish Dillon as the baron he envisions himself to be. The survey crew brings with it, however, a nasty shock for him; his erstwhile wife and now-grown daughter - who is unaware that Dillon is her father. Elena - the wife - is dying; she has come back to make some sort of arrangement with Dillon, as the man she was sold to has died and left her destitute, and she wants to provide for her daughter, the unlikely-named Hope. Dillon, on seeing her, realizes suddenly that his ambitions have left him hollow; his closest association is the madam of the town bordello, who loves him, but who he has no intention of marrying. He unceremoniously dumps the madam and presents Elena with an offer she can't refuse, and they are married - despite already being married - before all the townsfolk and move into a - for a town like that - palatial house overlooking his mountain fiefdom.
Both Hope and the madam view all this with equal suspicion and disapproval. Hope is aware that some connection is involved of which she is ignorant; the madam is deeply angry at being shunted off like yesterday's news. The survey company comes periodically into town for refreshment, always greeted enthusiastically by the girls from the bordello, played just right with a brittle gaiety and hope by the cast of women; you can see the wavering despair of one in particular, hopelessly in love with her regular customer and played to the pathos of hoping against hope that he will return each time and maybe, MAYBE spirit her away from Kingdom Come some day. The town itself is crude and unapologetic; no church or school, totally utilitarian, without sidewalks or a good road. Dillon's hopes of the coming railroad elevating the town are clearly laid out in his efforts to sway the survey crew, but his dreams of dynasty - and of leaving it all to Hope, the daughter he abandoned and regained - lie in the hands and at the mercy of the railroad company.
There is nothing soft or romantic about this movie; it is told in real-life format. People make choices that are wrong or right and pay the consequences thereof. There is no silver lining here; frontier life was hard and nasty sometimes, and this makes that very clear. Nothing came easy in the Old West, and justice was meted out unofficially and with speed. There were no second chances here.
This movie got under my skin almost immediately. It is shot in winter, for one thing; I was cold the whole time I watched it, merely from suggestion. The performances are top-rate; Wes Bentley - a young man I was previously unfamiliar with - plays the chief surveyist with careful consideration of his surroundings, sizing up every situation; Hope, played by Sarah Polley, shows just the right mix of doubt and loyalty as a daughter; her mother, played sublimely by the legendary Nastassja Kinski, faces her slow death bravely and accepts the life she was given. Daniel Dillon, played by Peter Mullan, takes his role as the king of Kingdom Come and makes it believeable, with equal parts of strength, bravado, and regret for mistakes made.
This was not a big movie; I'd never heard of it until I chanced on it, but it was a worthwhile couple of hours' insight into the life of a frontier mining town near the end of the 1800s West. And the scenery can be pretty awesome also."
One of the best films I've ever seen
PianoMom | New York, United States | 12/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If, as another reviewer said, you're looking for big blasts, action and a superficial script that has nothing to reveal then get yourself something else. This film is beautiful from start to finish. The acting is superb and contained, not overly dramatic...half of the dialogue is in the character's faces and gestures and not in the words they speak. Sarah Polley's performance as the introverted young girl who lives through the most painful years of her young life is outstanding. Shot in British Columbia (supposed to depict the Sierra Neveda Mountains), the scenes are breathtaking (particularly on a large screen) and cold, very very cold. The story will leave you weeping (at least it did me), and is even more affecting because it is all so understated. Not for those who want happy endings or who can't sit through serious drama. This is acting and cinematography at its best."
A pleasant surprise
John D. Olsen | Orange, CA USA | 10/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I just stumbled across this movie on cable and was pleasantly surprised. It does owe it's look to the classic "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", but I find no fault with that. A naturalistic movie with a gritty tone, a measured pace and a matter of factness about it. I loved the look at this high Sierra frontier town and it's denizens. Movie viewers weened on a steady diet of pyrotechnics and CGI might want to skip this one and revel in the MTV masturbations of something like "3000 Miles to Graceland" They won't enjoy this as evidenced by other reviewers considering this a bore. If you don't mind an atmospheric movie and don't need Al Pacino chewing the wallpaper to think that acting is going on, then you might just enjoy this melancholy western epic."
"They were like kings"
tuberacer | Honolulu, Hi. | 07/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is superior film making. The acting is excellent, the setting is meticulously authentic, the story is profound on a Biblical level. Michael Nyman's music is poignant. There is one scene when Milla Jovovich sings a song which alone makes the film worth watching. This is not Clint Eastwood, thank God. It doesn't have a gun fight for twenty minutes through the town with men getting shot and falling into the horses' water troughs. It is not burdened with the overbearing presence of a major star. It wouldn't have worked if there had been someone like that prancing around. If you want that kind of Hollywood Western which even Clint can't get away from still making, then look elsewhere. Go watch "The Unforgiven" again for that stuff. The two movies are very similar in setting, but wow what a difference. Comparing this to Hardy's work too is ridiculous. Why does anyone do that? What in the world does that achieve? This is a movie wholly of itself. Once it starts its ball rolling it has nothing to do with Hardy. American author Frank Norris might be a more fruitful comparison, if anyone, but this movie is a 21st Century production, not a work made before the turn of the 20th Century. Seem to be a lot of people who come to this movie with some kind of prejudice that they then rate it by. Just sit back and watch it and digest it without the large Coke and pre-buttered popcorn. Some may not have the patience for this film. I feel sorry for them. They're missing quality at work which doesn't have an eye on the box office receipts--one of the rare films. This is a movie for the attentive viewer who can read the depth of the story being told--a strong story with personal and historical significance. Think "Oedipus" maybe. This is probably the "truest" "Western" I've ever seen. Five Stars."