Central to the story is Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), mayor of the town of Kingdom Come, Nevada, located on the spot of the gold claim he struck during the 1849 gold rush, some 20 years earlier. Or so we are led to believe. As it turns out, Dillon's claim was given to him in trade -- in trade for his wife and daughter, sold as if they were slaves.
Years later, Dillon is rich, but wife and child have not fared so well. The woman (Nastassja Kinski) is near death from tuberculosis. The child (The Sweet Hereafter's Sarah Polley) is unable to care for her. Stricken with guilt, Dillon turns his energies to penance and taking care for the two women he sold off so long ago.
Meanwhile, the local railroad surveyor (American Beauty's Wes Bentley) has come to town to figure out where to lay his track for the transcontinental. If it goes through Kingdom Come, the town will prosper. If not, it will die. So a hero's welcome is accorded him -- which mainly means he gets a lot of free prostitutes.
In fact, it's in the whorehouse of Kingdom Come that the bulk of the action (so to speak) takes place, with Milla Jovovich taking center stage as the classiest of the bunch (she sings and has a gold tooth). It's tawdry and raunchy, and sadly, amidst all this debauchery, the plot gets muddied and ultimately lost. Much of The Claim's momentum revolves around some kind of animosity building between the railroad and Dillon -- and it makes absolutely no sense. Of course, guns are eventually drawn and bad things eventually happen. Presumably this had more significance in Thomas Hardy's novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, from which the story is adapted. Here, it is all but buried in the snow.
Still, this is a brooding and intriguing movie to watch. Director Michael Winterbottom doesn't do a lot with the camera -- too many handheld and aerial maneuvers that don't fit the story -- but the scenery and the languorous, dreamy walk through Kingdom Come are worth a look. The actors, sadly, seem universally miscast. Bentley feels too modern for the 1800s, Kinski is never credible as the Irish mother of Polley, and Jovovich's hot model looks are as out of place as a television set.
Then again, if The Claim was actually striving for gibberish, I guess the casting choices make perfect sense.
Claimed by fire.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd February 2001
Distributed by: MGM Distribution Co
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 62%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 32
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Producer: Andrew Eaton
Screenwriter: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Starring: Peter Mullan as Daniel Dillon, Milla Jovovich as Lucia, Wes Bentley as Donald Dalglish, Nastassja Kinski as Elena Burn, Sarah Polley as Hope Burn, Shirley Henderson as Annie, Julian Richings as Francis Bellanger
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