The Claim

Director:Michael Winterbottom
Writer:Frank Cottrell Boyce
United Artists; R; 120 minutes
Cast:Wes Bentley, Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich

The Claim stakes out select territory in the well-traveled terrain of Western dramas. Epic and moving, it manages to deal with life on an elemental pioneers-against-the-wilderness level the same time as it establishes a powerful moral code.

The titular claim refers to a choice mining spot for which Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) sold his wife and baby. There was gold in that vein, and Dillon soon became the most powerful man of Kingdom Come, a frontier town. The Claim begins when his wife (Nastassja Kinski) returns with their adult daughter (Sarah Polley) to request her claim to the wealth. In the intervening Gold Rush years Dillon has taken up with a Portuguese madame (Milla Jovovich) and remains Kingdom Come's respectable mayor. Events slowly come to a head when a railroad surveyor (played by American Beauty's Wes Bentley) arrives in town. Kingdom Come faces ghost town extinction if the surveyor opts to lay track along a less mountainous route. At Dillon's request, Bentley's character is flattered with the madame's offerings. The inspector simultaneously develops a more troubling association with Dillon's estranged daughter.

Did I mention that this is all based on a Thomas Hardy novel? The Claim is visually striking, and its attention to period detail sets a new precedent for Westerns. Various claims surround the mayor's life, such as serpents and flowers: that which he proudly displays, that which he struggles to avoid. Then the noose tightens.

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