Review by David Baldwin
Edee (Robin Wright) is looking for a change of scenery, far away from the city and the life she wants to leave in the past. She settles into a cabin in the remote mountain wilderness of Wyoming with some food and supplies, but deliberately chooses to have no car, no phone or contact with the outside world. While things start promising, Edee quickly becomes in over her head with how unprepared she is for the harshness of her new reality. A chance encounter with local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir) changes everything as he begins teaching her the skills she needs for survival.
Despite being made before Covid became our harsh reality, Land ends up feeling like a movie tailor made for the feelings many of us are having daily. Loneliness, depression, isolation and hopelessness are universal themes for all of us right now, and they are some of the biggest themes coursing through Land’s veins. Robin Wright does an excellent job capturing all of it as both the film’s lead and as its director (her feature film debut!), really allowing us to feel every moment of Edee’s journey of self-discovery. The way she uses the space is terrific, whether it is by showing how confined Edee’s new home is or how small she is amongst the vast unexplored wilderness. The natural lighting allows for some truly gorgeous cinematography (the Canadian Rockies stand in for Wyoming, and they look stunning) and while it may seem trivial, it was refreshing to see a film like Land filmed with a steady, static camera and not a handheld or shaky cam.
Wright herself is quite good in the film. It’s not quite the same as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar-winning work in The Revenant, but there were a few instances where Land attempts to match that gritty, grueling aesthetic. She pours everything she has into this role and has a command of the screen that never dissipates (even during a scene with some shoddy CGI snow work). Her pain and the loss she feels is palpable. It gives you a sense of who Edee really is behind the strong façade she puts up, even when the script and dialogue do not. Her work on her own is great, but she does even better when she is working off Bichir. He brings an understated energy to the piece that really transforms Land into a completely different kind of movie. He is strong and solemn, and the friendship they have really imbues Wright’s performance. Kudos to whoever’s decision it was to make their relationship strictly platonic and strip away even a hint of romance. Other films would have filled in that void, but it was great to see Land stay far away from that.
For me, I think Land could have only been improved if it was longer. It runs a hair under 90 minutes, and much of that time is spent episodically showing Edee learning new skills and learning how to become okay with what the future might bring. While those moments are good, there was not nearly enough time given to who Edee was before or what she is running from. The darker elements of the script are relegated to the background, and the little we learn about her past just never feels right. One particular flashback moment feels like it was ripped out of an entirely different film (and is thankfully never used again). I understand why Land strays away from letting her past define her, but I think the film deserved more time to really unpack the motivations that guide her decisions – especially the one that sends her packing to the mountains away from the rest of civilization. Much the same goes for Bichir’s character, who spends far too much of the film as a cypher just playing Good Samaritan. The film never really suggests an endgame for either character, so while some scenes feel a bit too aimless, some of the third act pivots end up feeling disingenuous and odd.
While it falters in some of its bigger details, Land still makes for an enjoyable film and a solid feature directorial debut from Wright. Her framing work is exquisite and her performance is terrific. Her work alongside Bichir is the real driving force of the film, and it could have been even greater if she spent a bit more time developing both characters.
Land will be released theatrically on Friday, February 12, 2021. It premiered earlier tonight at the Sundance Film Festival. Please ensure you are cautious and respect all Covid-19 protocols if you choose to see this film theatrically.