9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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.