“Land” is a part of that film genre that we call the solitary survival movie. It’s where an accomplished and usually A-list actor will have to carry a movie alone for long stretches of time, basically a one man or woman show, with no exchanges of dialogue or no interactions with other actors. Much like how Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Robert Redford, Reese Witherspoon and Matt Damon have all done in their careers.
Now added to that list of actors is Robin Wright. The former Mrs. Sean Penn puts her all into her newest film, the generically titled “Land” a mostly one woman show that qualifies as a solitary survival movie. Robin Wright not only takes the lead, but serves as the executive producer and makes her feature film directorial debut. Making it’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year, “Land” is now available to purchase or rent on all major digital streaming platforms.
Wright proves herself to be a capable and un-showy filmmaker whose taking on a difficult topic. While this isn’t a total home run for Wright it’s very close to one and there’s room for Wright to grow as a filmmaker. “Land” shows promise that she’ll improve to help her join the ranks of some of the great directorial debuts from other actors turned filmmakers. Robin Wright does a great deal of character work in the film’s first act with close to no dialogue. Her performance is open to many interpretations and it’s both understated and beautiful.
Opening the film we follow Edee (played by Robin Wright), who is driving to a remote cabin in the mountains. She asks the man who guided her if he could come and pick up the rental car she is driving whenever he can, but he instead suggests that it’s safer to have a vehicle with her. However Edee doesn’t care about safety, it’s far from her mind. Writers Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam withhold and slowly give us details about what has driven Edee to this place.
Being up here isolated from the world, Edee is unprepared for the cabin’s lack of electricity, where she nearly freezes to death during a winter storm and nearly starves without any food that doesn’t come from a can. Like her lack of care for safety, maybe these are things that don’t concern her? There’s certainly a lack of preparation for what’s about to face Edee that it’s as if Edee is fine with dying out here and she figures, so be it.
And then in act two, “Land” shifts gears by introducing a hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir “The Hateful Eight”) and a nurse named Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge). Not only do they try to save Edee’s life, but Miguel becomes an unexpected ally and teacher. Miguel may have more in common with Eder then they both think as they find Miguel, has some trauma and grief of his own.
While Bichir, is always a welcome presence. “Land” just works better without him, because the attraction here is in Edee and her motivation. Even if it’s whether Edee is to learn to survive or not? It’s also about how she will come to decide on a path forward while being stuck in an unfamiliar surrounding. I’m not saying that “Land” suddenly becomes a bad movie because of Bichir. There is a genuine tenderness in the helping hand he provides and the healing through nature guidance that he offers that is beautiful to witness.
I just found the film more effective and powerful within its silence when it was Robin Wright alone on screen, than when dialogue was shared with Bichir. Although Robin Wright helmed multiple episodes of Netflix’s “House of Cards”. Her work as a director on “Land” is simple, beautiful, powerful and impressive. Working with her cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (“99 Homes”), the two strike a nice balance between the lyrical shots of the gorgeous wilderness backdrop and the close-ups of the characters. For example Wright shoots a simple shot of a man sitting on a porch with his eyes closed, the sun on his face and it’s an image that is more powerful than any overwritten piece monologue.
As an actress, she is terrific as Edee, nailing every detail of her character. But really when is she ever off of her game? Wright gives us the kind of quiet and well observed role that would be a walk in the park for her. The film may not say anything new about coping with tragedy. At the core of her film, “Land” is a story of unimaginable grief and has a heartfelt compassion for those who were or are in pain and Wright keeps it affecting throughout.
It’s a smart, beautifully shot, moving piece of work that ends on a rushed final act. Robin Wright’s film and Edee’s journey all feels real enough and for a short hour and a half running time. Wright invites us all to retreat from life’s distractions (notably this ongoing pandemic) and do a bit of healing up there with her on that mountain.
GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3.5 out of 5)