The Claim

The Claim


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It's been 30 years since McCabe And Mrs Miller tried to even the balance between the Western as folklore and how it might have really been in those pioneer towns. Now an Englishman, Michael Winterbottom (Jude, Welcome To Sarajevo), has done the same. There is no slow motion, no gunfights on Main Street, no posse. The girls don't wear make up and if Jack Palance walked into the saloon, he wouldn't recognise it. These folks are having a good time.

The town of Kingdom Come in Sierra Nevada, California, was built by one man, Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), an Irish prospector, who sold his wife and baby for a rich claim in the goldfields. He doesn't allow guns in his town and ensures that thieving is punished by public flogging and any fights in the whorehouse are settled at once. He is a fair, but tough man.

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When Elena (Nastassja Kinski), the wife he sold, returns with Hope (Sarah Polley), their grown-up daughter, he is torn between ending his liaison with Lucy (Milla Jovovich), who runs the saloon, or ignoring them. He doesn't know yet that Elena is dying of consumption.

At the same time, Dalgleish (Wes Bentley), from the Central Pacific Railroad, has arrived with his men to map the route of a new line joining the East coast to the West. If the track goes through Kingdom Come, the town will grow and prosper.

In his attempt to avoid Western cliches, Winterbottom is in danger of going too far the other way. He shoots in winter, which means if it's not snowing now it will be in a minute. Rather than endure the gunfight rigmarole, when anyone is shot, it happens like that, suddenly, without warning.

Even the emotional anguish surrounding Hope's love for Dalgleish, Dillon's guilt about what he did, Elena's fear of dying is internalised and held back. The need for honesty avoids sentimental hooks. You have to work hard to know these people.

The beauty of the location is matched by the rough lives they lead. With the exception of Hope, whose strength and goodness shines forth, you don't care enough, so that when the story takes hold three quarters of the way through, it is difficult to feel involved.

Despite this and the absence of showy performances, there is an integrity about the film that is rare and admirable.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2001
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The Claim packshot
A man's decision to sell his wife and child for a prospecting claim comes back to haunt him when they return 20 years later.
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Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: Frank Cotteral Boyce, based on the book The Mayor Of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

Starring: Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley, Shirley Henderson, Julian Richings, Sean McGinley, Randy Birch, Tom McCamus, Frank Zotter

Year: 2000

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/France


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