Color me astounded.
Winterbottom takes the same approach to The Claim that he did Wonderland; he takes a step back from the material and never subtly infuses his own message into the work; he lets the characters shine, good and bad, and he’s extremely sound as far as moving the camera goes. I’ve never been to film school, but I notice very much how he shoots things without being taken out of the movie, and I can appreciate wholeheartedly the effort he’s put in here.
What confounds me is the genre-jump. While The Claim and Wonderland both have some similar archetypes running through them, Wonderland is a family with modern dysfunctions, whereas The Claim seems to focus more on what impacts people’s choices have on their lives, immediately or in the future.
The Claim is beautifully shot. Winterbottom handles the shots with extreme finesse, one I never would’ve suspected he had from Wonderland.
In gold-rush era California, a man sells his wife and his child for the rights to a gold mine. Twenty or so years later, he is the richest and most powerful man in the region. Then a surveyor for the railroad company comes into town, looking for where the railroad should run – around the town or through it. The rich and powerful man desperately wants the railroad through his town, but the surveyor has come with baggage from the past; the ailing wife and grown-up child the rich man sold long, long ago. As the railroad’s course is plotted through the region, a series of events unfolds which will determine the fate of an entire town.
As in Wonderland, the cast does a superb job. Only one cast member that I could recognize (Shirley Henderson, of Harry Potter fame) makes the jump to The Claim, but the most striking cast member, to me, personally, was Milla Jovovich. I love Milla Jovovich. Long have I extolled the fact that she’s a far better actress than most suspect. Her big budget fare has never given her much wiggle room as an actress, and when she has failed, it’s been rather spectacularly (Ultraviolet, anyone?). So, after years of begging people to give Milla a second chance, it was fantastic and wonderful to see her really own something. She does really well at this, and she effortlessly holds her own with Sarah Polley, who most people hold as a very fine, very talented actress.
Overall, I think I’m in a state of complete shock from The Claim. Normally, period-fare such as this has a way of inspiring distance in the viewer, I think, mainly because with differences in culture and speech it can be difficult for viewers to necessarily identify with someone one hundred years in the past. Winterbottom very slyly gets around this with some very smart shots, in my opinion, that really help you relate a bit more. It certainly helps that he’s got a fine cast in hand and an excellent script.
All in all, Michael Winterbottom is a now a director who I will gladly cough up money to see any sort of film he’s done, regardless of the subject matter or tone.
Thanks, Joseph B., for making the introductions. (I think I owe Joseph B. a couple of beers too, in addition to Kevin.)