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4.0 out of 5 stars Hardy Out West., 19 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Claim [DVD] [2001] (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.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Mar 2012 07:24:26 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 16 Jun 2012 04:58:20 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2012 13:25:37 GMT
Bob Salter says:
Thanks as always Bill. Yes family are all well. Read your interesting review for "Two Rode Together". I agree with you, Linda Cristal was a real beauty who was severly underused in films. I remember her in "The Alamo" and later in "Mr Majestyk" but little else. She was of course brilliant as Victoria Montoya in "The High Chapparal", with just the right looks and bearing to pass for Spanish nobility.

Regards

Bob

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2012 18:14:21 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 16 Jun 2012 04:59:27 BDT]
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