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Review: Robin Wright's coping drama 'Land' is solid, but not groundbreaking

Robin Wright appears in "Land," by Robin Wright, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Daniel Power Copyright Focus Features LLC 2020.

(Courtesy of Sundance Institute)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

WYOMING — If you've ever been on a hike before, you probably know how therapeutic spending time in the outdoors can be.

Taking in the beautiful scenery, breathing fresh air and getting closer to nature can be a very fulfilling experience.

Robin Wright explores that phenomenon in her directorial debut "Land." She stars as Edee, a woman who has experienced a devastating loss.

In the film's opening scene, Edee remarks that her pain is so great that she can't bear asking anyone else around her to share that burden. So to avoid unloading her grief onto anyone else, she packs up a U-Haul, dumps her iPhone in a trash can and heads out to a totally isolated cabin in the Wyoming wilderness.

After Edee goes through a near-death experience at the cabin, a hunter named Miguel (Demián Bichir) shows her the ways of the land she's adopted as her new home.

"Land" is a solid directorial debut from Wright that features a powerful story of a woman's healing, as well as some beautiful photography of the pristine wilderness. The film doesn't break any new ground, though, and some may find it overly melodramatic.

Here are a few things about "Land" that work, and some that don't.

Two great lead performances

Wright and Bichir are both excellent in the film's two leading roles, and they have great chemistry together.

Both characters are going through the grieving process, and watching them heal together is endearing and wholesome.

Wright commits to a physically demanding role that demands intense emotionality. Bechir is very good and adds small moments of flair to Miguel that are subtle but make the character more memorable.

The photography is beautiful

"Land" is set in Wyoming, but was actually shot in the Canadian Rockies. The photography of the pristine mountain wilderness is just gorgeous and gives the movie a strong sense of setting and place.

Sweeping shots of a snowstorm barreling through the mountains make Edee's struggle to survive in the unforgiving wilderness feel all the more real. And calm moments of a mountain stream flowing through a forest with golden leaves in autumn depict the tenderness and tranquility Edee experiences when she finally begins to heal.

In a virtual question-and-answer session after "Land" debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Wright described how the seasons changed quickly during the production of the film.

One day it would be warm and sunny summer weather in the mountains, but then the next day a cold storm would roll through and dump snow, she said. Then the snow would melt but the balmy weather would linger, and it would feel like fall.

That real-life wilderness unpredictability is also depicted in the movie as Edee sometimes struggles to keep up with the curveballs the mountains throw her way. The movie's strong, vibrant setting gives more weight to Edee's journey and makes her story more compelling.

It's overly melodramatic

Sadness and grief are the main themes of "Land," and while the movie mostly depicts those themes with sensitivity, it sometimes goes over the line into melodrama.

The film's final act fails to stick the landing as certain things are revealed about the characters that seem too heavy-handed. The final scene of the movie feels especially forced and almost made me cringe.

Films about wilderness can sometimes fall too much in love with the romanticized thought of getting out into beautiful natural places and go overboard with glorifying wanderlust. Take "Into The Wild" for example, which props up its privileged protagonist as a heroic martyr while mostly ignoring the unpreparedness and costly mistakes that led to Christopher McCandless's tragic death.

While "Land" isn't quite as pretentious in that regard as "Into The Wild," it sometimes comes dangerously close to seeming like an Instagram influencer's travelogue and seems sappy or corny.

Is it worth watching?

"Land" is a worthwhile effort from the talented actor-director Wright, who is good both in front of and behind the camera.

The movie shows how grief can often be a process of success and failure, and that both can be valuable learning experiences as people work to heal themselves.

It's not perfect, but it's worth watching as a character study of a woman working through that process — especially if you love wilderness and beautiful scenery.

"Land" opens in wide release today and is rated PG-13 for thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity. Be sure to consider the public health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic before heading to the theater.

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