“The Claim isn’t an unpleasant movie, just a boring one…”
Inspired by the novel “The Mayor of Casterbridge” by Thomas Hardy, The Claim is an epic morality tale that takes place in Kingdom Come, a snowy Sierra Nevada claim town, twenty years after the Gold Rush of 1849. Although the setting is somewhat unique, the story is stock Western: Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan), the town’s sheriff, holds a tormenting secret. Although romantically linked to local brothel owner Lucia (Milla Jovovich), he’s forced to face the consequences of youthful transgressions when a dying woman (Nastassja Kinski) and her daughter (Sarah Polley) come to town. At the same time, a crew of railroad representatives, led by Chief Surveyor Dalglish (Wes Bentley), arrives to investigate Kingdom Come’s suitability as a stop on an approaching railway line, which would determine the fate of the entire town.
As a history lesson in frontier life during the late 1800’s, The Claim certainly succeeds. The importance of the ever-expanding railroad to an inconsequential town like Kingdom Come is clearly illustrated, and the harsh pioneer existence is depicted with an unglamorized authenticity. Where the film fails, however, is in the areas of compelling narrative and dramatic conflict. Still, the movie is only half-bad.
The bad half would be the first half, which is pretty much devoid of plot. The main conflict isn’t presented until an hour into the movie. From there on, the story rolls along steadily, if a bit fitfully. By this time, though, the film’s problematic casting becomes apparent. With the exception of Mullan, most of the performers here are miscast. Wes Bentley seems a bit green to be a veteran railroad surveyor, and both he and Polley fail to incorporate themselves fully into the period setting. Most of the cast members simply don’t have the acting chops for such heavy drama, resulting in amateurish, though wholehearted, performances.
The universal themes of regret and redemption do manage to sustain interest during the second half of the movie – up to a point. But because the characters spend so much time onscreen before anything significant happens, and because the elements of the plot are presented in such small increments, it’s hard to develop any emotional interest in the story’s outcome. The Claim isn’t an unpleasant movie, just a boring one. Things do finally heat up – literally – toward the end, but by the time they do, the movie’s over, leaving viewers as cold as the tiny town in which it’s set.