21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hardy's morality tale exquisitely retold
In this gentle-paced and beautifully shot epic, the director has taken Hardy's 'Mayor of Casterbridge' from England to gold-rush America. In doing so he has preserved the novel's themes: the clash of the old world with the new, the lust for glory and the tragedy of personal ambition. The acting is exceptional, the scenery stunning, and the soundtrack by Nyman sets the...
Published on 15 Mar 2002 by Ben
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Visually Stunning Film, Interesting, Too, if the Viewer Has Read up on Its Plot Aforehand
I would urge Amazon's WWW site's users to obtain and to view this film, but with a warning. The narrative of the film does not reveal itself very clearly. I even had read the novel ("The Mayor of Casterbridge") by Thomas Hardy on which the film was based (with a transfer from a British to an American Western setting, with changes in the names of the characters), but had...
Published on 16 Feb 2009 by Gerald Parker
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hardy's morality tale exquisitely retold,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)In this gentle-paced and beautifully shot epic, the director has taken Hardy's 'Mayor of Casterbridge' from England to gold-rush America. In doing so he has preserved the novel's themes: the clash of the old world with the new, the lust for glory and the tragedy of personal ambition. The acting is exceptional, the scenery stunning, and the soundtrack by Nyman sets the mood perfectly. This is not a film for the MTV generation: although it is a simple morality tale it is told in a thoughtful and compelling way that rewards attention to its subtleties. A film for the soul.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Visually Stunning Film, Interesting, Too, if the Viewer Has Read up on Its Plot Aforehand,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)I would urge Amazon's WWW site's users to obtain and to view this film, but with a warning. The narrative of the film does not reveal itself very clearly. I even had read the novel ("The Mayor of Casterbridge") by Thomas Hardy on which the film was based (with a transfer from a British to an American Western setting, with changes in the names of the characters), but had read that great work too long ago to be able to recall enough of it to follow clearly what the film, too, was portraying. I did manage to "get the gist of it" despite a lot of confusion along the way, but it was a summary of the action of the motion picture, on a WWW site that made it all congeal together, "after the fact" of having viewed it, rather than adequate clues of a visual sort or from the dialogue from the movie itself while I first was watching it.
The film is visually very beautiful. The mountainous California scenery is magnificent and rather well and atmospherically filmed. The young male actor, Wes Bentley, who plays the role of Dalglish, the railroad planner, provides the main human pulchritude, very handsome and youtfully appealing, real "eye candy". His acting is less than stunning, perhaps at least in part due to the apparent need to affect a foreign accent that he conveys with only intermittent ability to convince. One of the problems, though, that this film has with conveying the narrative is that so much attention on the character of Dalglish (Bentley), especially so near to the beginning of the movie, distracts the viewer's attention from the plight (until revived later as the action progresses) of Daniel Dillon (played by Peter Mullan), who, after all, is the central character around whose fate this cinematic work turns. What occurs in flashbacks to the past and what is happening in the action's present also is unclear, creating potential confusion for the viewer.
The film might have benefitted from a better and more assertive score. Too much happens without the evocative enhancement that a more skillful and prominent score would have provided.
A good motion picture this is, in short, but do some "homework" to prepare yourself to follow the story that this film recounts with such visual beauty. I would like to see my DVD of this movie a few more times, to feast the eyes on the lofty loveliness of the mountain setting and on the boyishly bearded beauty of Wes Bentley, so, I guess that this is adequate to have provoked that opening, decided recommendation to you from me!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All that glitters...,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)It may be harsh to say that Michael Winterbottom is one of the most consistently bad directors working today, but his emphasis on often counterproductive technique at the expense of story or character has resulted in an almost unbroken run of poor films from promising material - which in many ways is far worse than making bad films out of videogames. Ever the alchemist, once again he manages to turn gold into base metal with The Claim, a fairly lavish version of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge relocated to the California mountains during the Gold Rush. While the basic story transposes rather well - a down on his luck prospector who sold his wife and child for a gold claim and rose to rule the town that grew up around it finds himself on the road to destruction when they reappear and he attempts to make amends - it's little more than an underdeveloped skeletal outline that never grips, feeling less an attempt at subtlety, more underwritten.
While it throws out the complexity of the source material, there's enough left here that could have made a good adult Western drama in other hands, especially in the neat turn around from genre tradition that sees Peter Mullan's all-powerful Mayor of Kingdom Come trying to persuade Wes Bentley's surveyor to drive the railroad through his town to ensure its growth. Yet it never gets to the heart of the story, playing the big scenes for less than they're worth (hard to believe any director could botch a scene of Mullan harnessing the whole town to manhaul his marital home across the snow and into the heart of town, but Winterbottom manages it) and constantly pushing characters and story into the background without ever placing anything in the foreground to compensate. Worse, no present-day action in the film has any real consequence, which is fairly disastrous for a morality play about consequences. It's the kind of film where people get killed and their death makes no impression on the emotions or actions of anyone around them leaving a dreary, inconsequential film with no drive.
Rather than story or character, Winterbottom seems interested in recreating the world of McCabe and Mrs Miller, but he's taken all the worst of Altman without any of the best. There may be an occasional improvised feel, but it's rarely harnessed to the film's benefit, feeling like undisciplined self-indulgence and all too symptomatic of the way that far too much of the film is played out of focus, both metaphorically and literally. Indeed, it often feels like a film whose few strengths have little to do with the director. Peter Mullan is superb as the Mayor, convincingly essaying the kind of man who can rule an entire town by sheer force of will alone, but while you understand his emptiness, the film never allows you to feel for it, leaving the finale a rather empty spectacle rather than genuine tragedy. If anything, the film's tragedy is that Mullan didn't get a film worthy of his performance. Unfortunately the supporting performances are rather dull and characterless: Nastassja Kinski has little to do but waste away, Sarah Polley isn't able to do much with her cardboard good girl, Milla Jovovich lacks the moxie her saloon manger cries out for while Wes Bentley tries to coast on charisma without ever having enough to do the trick. Instead they're outshone by production designer Mark Tildesley's superbly recreated snowy mountain town and a surprisingly powerful and heartfelt Michael Nyman score that abandons his usual mathematical masturbation for something more grandiose and passionate. And you know what they say about shows where you come out humming the scenery...
Pathe's DVD has a good 2.35:1 widescreen transfer but the only extra is the film's trailer.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardy Out West.,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)For a northern lad Mancunian film director Michael Winterbottom has taken a real shine to the works of the very southern author Thomas Hardy, who is firmly entrenched in the Dorset countryside. He already memorably brought his favourite Hardy novel "Jude the Obscure" to the screen in 1996, which I tend to remember with typical male chauvanistic relish for Kate Winslet's ample charms. His latest project "Trishna" is a modern day retelling of "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" set in India and due to be released in the UK around the time of this review. This is his third Hardy adaption, the second being his rather forgotten western "The Claim" in 2000. I have to admit that I did go through a Thomas Hardy period when the author could do no wrong in my youthful west country eyes, but that was a long time ago and I have found him to make rather bleak reading after long and heavy immersion. It does tend to mean that his books do not make for the most cheery screen adaptions. I guess I am getting more optomistic with age, which is a strange state of affairs I'll grant you! If Winterbottom's favourite was Jude then my own has to be "The Mayor of Casterbridge", which is the novel from which "The Claim" is adapted, and I have to say that despite the many negative reviews I have read on this film, I enjoyed it immensely.
In the film the Rocky mountains substitute for the chalk downlands of Wessex in the 1860's Californian gold rush. Casterbridge becomes the small mining town of Kingdom Come, and the mayor himself Matthew Trenchard becomes Daniel Dillon the wealthy miner who virtually owns the settlement. As in the novel Dillon's kingdom starts to crumble around him due to a dark deed from the past. This culminates in a spectacular denouement. I particularly enjoyed spotting all the western influences that Winterbotttom has clearly gone to pains to include. The films crude settlement and snowy setting is strongly reminiscent of Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller". There is a one scene that is a strong reminder of Richard Sarafian's "Man in the Wilderness", with a peppering of Herzog's manic "Fitzcarraldo". Dillon's character is remarkably similar to Gene Hackman's Little Bill in Clint Eastwood's "The Unforgiven". The big bonfire could easily have come from Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter", or even taken back to the silent era from William S Hart's magnificent "Hells Hinges". Perhaps most striking is Winterbottom's nod to "Once Upon a Time in the West", Sergio Leone's own amalgum of past westerns. In that film a town waits expectantly for the railroad to arrive bringing new prosperity and heralding a new age. The overall effect mimics Cimino's beautiful but doomed "Heavens Gate", without the expansive crowd scenes. For an old western buff it got me all dewey eyed and nostalgic for the past, so Winterbottom easily won me over to his side early on.
Sadly just like "Heavens Gate" this 20 million dollar film flopped, although it did not bring down a studio as that film did! A fate it did not deserve. It was beautifully shot in difficult conditions at a ski resort in the frosty mountains of Canada. Poor old Winterbottom even managed to get frostbite, suffering for the sake of art just as Akira Kurosawa did in his monumental film "Dersu Uzala" shot in the Russian Taiga. Peter Mullan is particularly credible in the lead role, and Jovovich surprisingly sexy as his younger muse. Little is required of Kinski other than to cough a lot, and Sarah Polley mopes around like a limp lettuce, with about as much charisma. Wes Bentley just about passes muster as Hope's virile love interest. Much has been said of Michael Nyman's score which pays homage to Ennio Morricone's distinct Spaghetti canon of work, in particular "The Shootout". I think Winterbottom and his screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce have made a damn fine job of adapting Hardy's novel to the bleak mountains of California. The film engaged me from beginning to end and its unusual mix of Hardy tragedy transposed to the great American west was a sure fire winner for me. Admittedly it is perhaps not a five star classic western but I am glad to have added it to my collection.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inner emptiness in a cold place,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)"There's no pleasure in it. A man loses heart"
Such is the admonition about gold that a weary prospector, after pouring a bag of nuggets out onto the table, gives young Daniel Dillon, newly arrived in the snowbound Sierra Nevada range during the California gold rush. Despite this less than encouraging counsel, Dillon trades for the miner's claim something most men would consider too dear to barter. Now, almost two decades later in 1868, Daniel's mine has spawned a town, Kingdom Come, and Dillon (Peter Mullan) is the benevolent despot that rules the settlement and everyone in it. Again, it's winter, and there's nothing for the prospectors to do but drink, gamble, carouse in the local brothel, and await the verdict of the Central Pacific survey party out to determine if the transcontinental trains will pass through KC. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that the town will die if the railroad bypasses the community.
Wes Bentley plays Donald Dalglish, the rakish young engineer who leads the survey team. He's arrived in town escorting two ladies, recently widowed Elena (Nastassja Kinski) and Hope (Sarah Polley). Elena is dying of tuberculosis, and Hope is her teenaged daughter. It soon becomes apparent that the two women share a past with Dillon, who dumps Lucia, his significant other and the owner of the brothel, and invites Elena and Hope to move into his Victorian mansion. In the meantime, between frolics with the workin' gals, Dalglish becomes smitten with Hope.
The connection between Dillon, Elena and Hope is revealed early on. The plot is not so much concerned with who these characters are, but rather with the culmination of the morality play that began years before when Dillon ignored sound advice - a finale intensified to a sharp point by the Central Pacific's eventual verdict and Elena's illness.
I was somewhat confounded that I didn't like this movie more for it's indeed a richly photographed period piece. For me, the characters of Dillon and Dalglish just didn't click. Neither one was portrayed by the screenwriters to be either particularly endearing or hateful to the audience. Both are just regular guys, each a blend of both good and flawed traits, and therefore too nondescript to carry the weight of being the male leads. The Elena and Hope characters, while crucial to the storyline, were little more than indispensable props.
Actually, the most interesting part of the film for me - and I'm saying this without a smirk, really! - was the portrayal of the bordello. The film doesn't judge or glamorize the girls or the business they work at, which is to provide lonely men with emergency love and separate them from their money and gold in the process. And the film doesn't make the working conditions any more miserable than might be expected in any shantytown place in the snowed-under Sierras of the 1860s. There's one scene where the house manager yells a reminder through the door to one of her staff, "Be sure and collect his money - you aren't giving it away for free!" Hmmph! That's what my wife shouts after me as I drive off to my 9 to 5 every morning.
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)I love this film. Very atmospheric and beautifully shot. Peter Mullen is fantastic, and you feel his pain as he tries to rectify his past mistakes.
5.0 out of 5 stars THE CLAIM,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)A GREAT FILM TO WATCH.THERE IS A LOT OF ACTION AND GOOD STORY LINES WITH IT.
GREAT VALUE FOR MONEY.
5.0 out of 5 stars Feedback on the Film,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)- excellent acting, story line, scenery, music -- it is an epic tale on a grand scale - highly recommended serious film - not your average cowboy by any means
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars surreal images,
This review is from: The Claim [DVD]  (DVD)The story-line comes from Hardy, so we needn't judge that here. What really distinguishes this film is the photography. It is full of memorable surreal images. As for the acting, all three of the leading ladies are superb, the men I think not quite.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black and white in colour: the greatest revisionist western of this decade.,
This review is from: Claim [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)I can see why this particular film (and many of the director's other works) had such a hard time finding an audience when first released in 2000 - what with the endlessly roaming camera and those flashbacks that seem to come out of nowhere - but for me personally, the problems have less to do with Winterbottom's aesthetic choices as a filmmaker and more to do with audiences pre-conceived opinions about the film due to poor promotion and marketing. In my opinion, the film was woefully misrepresented by the people at Fox Pathè (the distributors) and even by the producers themselves, who seemed to announce The Claim as something of a traditional western along the lines of Unforgiven, or even as a precursor to the glossy, chocolate-box picture Cold Mountain (a film greatly inferior to this). Both of these examples are, however, worlds away from the style and atmosphere of The Claim, with Winterbottom and his screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce here providing an almost biblical downward spiral for their central characters that is as far removed from Hollywood as you can possibly get.
As you can probably deduce from the title of this review, The Claim is a bleak film, dealing with characters pushed to the edge and pent up with all manner of secret shame, guilt and fury. The story takes its inspiration from Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, but it is in no way a straight interpretation, but more of a re-investigation and analysis into that central predicament. The story therefore becomes a simple morality tale, though made all the more austere through the director's unwillingness to complicate the proceedings with bouts of melodrama or sentimentality. However, Winterbottom's films are merely simplistic on a superficial level. Like his cinematic countryman Mike Leigh, he creates work from a rough sketch that is elaborated on by his actors as the whole process goes along. Thus, in a way, the act of making a film is a lot like the building of the railroad here, and the stark changes that fall into place within the mood of the dwellers of the central town, Kingdom Come, are therefore representative of the always-shifting viewpoints and overlapping narrative timelines that emerge as the picture unfolds.
The railroad that is so central to the proceedings here has a number of meanings subtextually linked to its involvement in the plot. It is a representation of an uncertain future; about change and progress - the complete antithesis of everything that the character of Dillon represents. It is also the device that brings the pivotal outsiders into town (Dalglish, the charismatic railroad surveyor replete with a posse of men, the dying immigrant Elena, stricken with T.B. and finally - and most importantly - the aptly-named Hope; Elena's daughter here in town to search out her long-lost father). Added to this troika of outsiders, we also have the headstrong and exotic Lucile, Dillon's mistress and owner of the local whorehouse where Dalglish's wayward men spend most of their spare time. Here, the remarkable thing is how Boyce manages to bring the characters together, establishing relationships slowly, like an extended chamber piece. As the story progresses, the emphasis on Lucile, Elena and Dalglish become less apparent, as they begin to merge into the not-too-distant background as Dillon and Hope take precedence over the narrative at hand.
Despite the numerous allusions and comparisons to Robert Altman's classic anti-western McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Winterbottom's directorial style is more indebted to European filmmakers, like Fassbinder, Kieslowski and Herzog; as he composes his images in a pallet of stark monochrome, with black-clad figures frost-bitten by snow juxtaposing with the void-like whiteness of the locale; all the while using the editing to break or undermine the rhythm (unlike other films of this genre, that are all about 'establishing' rhythm). The Altman references are merely superficial ciphers, with the exterior of snowbound locations, crumbling bordellos and ever-winding railroads giving way to a depiction of obsession and redemption that has more in common with a film like Fitzcaralldo. It is the character of Dillon that really carries the film, as the director singles him out as a lost soul whilst the town he once loved becomes a metaphor for his prevailing greed and anguish; an idea that goes alongside that other figurative interpretation as the town as a literal whorehouse (with Lucile its newly appointed mayor/Madame); all allowing Winterbottom to draw parallels with a film like Quarelle or Lola by Fassbinder or the latter's inspiration, The Blue Angel.
That final scene offers us a haunting evocation of pride in the face of defeat and has the ability to work its way into your subconscious via Winterbottom's use of almost universal iconography. A searing depiction of one man's personal redemption played out against the largest scale; with the key elements of power, betrayal, identity, ambition and loss being worked into every subtle nuance of the script to from a rich tapestry of inter-linked vignettes that come together to create a sort-of Greek-tragedy amidst the decline of the 'wild west'. As Michael Nyman's evocative, bombastic, Morriconne-inspired score begins to intensify, the images of Dillon - eyes devoid of expression as he marches through the town slowly crumbling all around him - plays off an early scene in which a horse caught in a munitions explosion gallops off into the hill, engulfed by flames.
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The Claim [DVD]  by Michael Winterbottom (DVD - 2003)