The Claim

on December 29, 2000 by Francesca Dinglasan
   Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler's masterful framing of Canada's Fortress Mountain, which serves as the Sierra Nevada setting in Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim," is largely wasted on this overlong tale of regret and greed in the Gold Rush-era American West.

   Loosely based on Thomas Hardy's novel "The Mayor of Casterbridge," the film follows Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), an extremely wealthy 49er who runs the mining community of Kingdom Come. It's 1869 and the only concern marring Dillon's comfortable life with lover Lucia (Milla Jovovich), the proprietor of the local saloon and whorehouse, is to convince Dalglish (Wes Bentley), head of the Pacific Coast Railroad's surveying party, to have the cross-continental train run through town. This all changes when Dillon's now dying wife Elena (Nastassja Kinski) and adult daughter Hope (Sarah Polley), whom he traded 20 years earlier for the claim of gold nugget-filled land that brought him his fortune, come to town in search of him, awakening deeply buried feelings of shame and longing.

   Besides being tediously slow in unveiling Dillon's dark secret, told in the all too conventional method of guilt-ridden flashbacks, the film clearly doesn't have faith in its ensemble cast's ability to convey the complexities of each onscreen persona. Instead, Frank Cottrell Boyce's script relies on painfully trite dialogue and predictable plot points to assure audiences of the characters' pure hearts. There's not a shadow of a doubt, for example, that the womenfolk aren't just after Dillon's wealth. Lucia's exclamation, "I don't want your money! I'm not a whore!" after he offers her land as a way to end their relationship and Elena's weak entreaty, "I just want to do right by Hope" in her request for financial assistance from her former husband are just two of the pic's obvious cries for character sympathy.

   The most attractive quality about the movie is undoubtedly the breathtaking landscape that forms its backdrop. However, like fool's gold, "The Claim" is something pretty to look at but ultimately worthless. Starring Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich and Nastassja Kinski. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Produced by Andrew Eaton. An MGM release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content, some language and violence. Running time: 122 min

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