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22 of 23 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

6 of 6 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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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black and white in colour: the greatest revisionist western of this decade., 1 Mar 2008
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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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully raw, hard, cold, painful, slow, and sad film, 15 Dec 2004
Chris Vertonghen (Belgium) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Claim [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
Beautifully raw, hard, cold, painful, slow, and sad film about European goldhunters/settlers in America some 140 years ago. Although I wasn't there when it happened and I didn't know it could be continuously snowing in California USA, it appeared very plausible as a realistic portrait of how things must have been in America in the days that my great-grandfather was a young boy. Some minor points though: I don't particularly like flashbacks and blurred imagery, and I found the ones in this film to appear a bit messy, experimental and therefore annoying, just like Michael Nyman's soundtrack to this film. Also, I found the characters to be a bit superficial, some of them even unrealistically shallow. If the story had been given a bit more sequence and finesse, I have a very strong suspicion that this could have been a truly great movie.
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The Claim [DVD] [2001]
The Claim [DVD] [2001] by Michael Winterbottom (DVD - 2003)
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