Directed By Robin Wright
Starring – Robin Wright, Demian Bichir, Sarah Dawn Pledge
The Plot – A bereaved woman (Wright) seeks out a new life, off the grid in Wyoming.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, brief strong adult language, and partial nudity
– Stunning photography. Even if at all possible, Wright and the producers couldn’t have picked a more ideal location for the film that resonates peace and tranquility consistently in the movie’s alluring cinematography. Bobby Bukowski pitches what I can only describe as a perfect game with his lucid compositions, navigating us through an expansively vast variety of agricultural landscapes that not only alludes us to the isolation that this character has saddled herself with, but also plays magnificently in the stripped-down psychology of starting over that the protagonist so desperately seeks. This is a beautifully layered movie in all of its visualization, which stands as the welcome mat for audiences to engage upon, and what Bukowski does so effortlessly is channel the inner body immersiveness of such an environment, giving us plenty of wide angle and over the shoulder photography that tranquilizes the experience tenfold.
– Body language. I can admire the decision to keep the dialogue between the minimal amount of characters to a limited use, especially because it requires the exposition and backstory of the central protagonist to find other ways of conveying information to the audience. It’s especially appreciated because everything that weighs heavily on the mentality of Wright’s character comes through in some brief flashback sequences that pleasantly reminded me of the kind of work that Jean-Marc Vallee instills in the visual identity of each of his pictures, but never along the way are we given audible narration to feed us crumbs along the way. From reading the plot and interpreting the first few scenes, we understand that this is very much a woman trying to heal from some monumental loss, but it’s only in the experiences with the ghosts of memories past that continuously haunt her do we understand the who and they why of such a predicament, giving us a metaphorical circumstance for grief and healing that constantly strikes below the surface.
– Directorial debut. Wright shot this film in a mere 29 days, and despite the limitations in shooting a film in such a condensed amount of time, as well as the lack of experience in doing such, she garners a lot of qualities that proves she has a bright future ahead in the director’s chair. First off, the decision to shoot on location attains the authenticity and endless beauty in visuals that I previously mentioned and commended the movie for. This follows a limitation in use of special effects and artificial properties in wildlife surrounding her character, and keeps it from feeling overtly done to the point its inclusion becomes obvious throughout. Finally, it’s the unabashed focus on the little things, like eating to survive, that better helped drive home the message for this film, and worked terrifically with the evolution of the character, which makes this an intimately devised film considering she’s the primary character as well. It prescribes a grip on the property that cements all hands were on deck consistently for the direction of this story and production alike, and makes Wright a double threat for the next act of her storied career.
– Dynamic duo. The performances themselves are solid enough on their own without feeling too overly dramatic for the enhancement of fictional cinema, but for my money the work of Wright and Bichir work especially better when they’re sharing the screen together, and harvesting some of the best chemistry within the lost souls of their characters that money can buy. These are two people who share more in common than they think with one another, and once that backstory starts to unravel, allowing us to better understand and grow with each of them, we start to attain the connection between them that feels romantic, but is anything but in reality. Wright’s frailty at times feels every bit as honest in its triggering as it does heavy in its impact, and outlines a depth for the actress that I honestly feel has been missing for a long time. As for Bichir, it’s what I feel is his best work to date, bringing some light hearted levity to the film that really saves our protagonist in more ways than one, and supplants an infectious outlook on life that starts and ends with the repeated singing of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears For Fears.
– Intricate sound design. You wouldn’t expect a movie as quiet on the action or physicality of a cinematic experience to have notable audibility in its environment, but thankfully the production team here preserves depth in the atmosphere we spend the entirety of the film within. The rhythmic musical score from composer Ben Sollee competently maintains the somber registry that persists in the beat of this story, but does tranquilly against the elements of nature that make this world virtually inescapable at all times. In particular, I loved the choir of owls and finch’s that constantly sang aloud, as well as the cackling of tree branches and limbs that colorfully articulate that Wright’s character is never truly alone despite being miles from civilization. It takes advantage of the influence that very few other settings naturally could, which all play into the mentality of loneliness that the protagonist is vividly feeling.
– Timely appropriate. I seem to be saying this a lot when it comes to contemporary cinema, but the decision for our lead to remove all forms of distraction from her life seem like the perfect message of self-discovery during an age demanding anything but. In doing so, Wright removes the cell phone, the social media, and even the connection from family and friends that doesn’t allow her the moments of needed reflection after suffering such a monumental loss, and it really sort of prescribes such an ideal to the audience in a gift-wrapped message that doesn’t feel heavy handed or reliant on time inside of the context of the narrative. Especially during a time when people seem to be losing connection with one another, we are all the more dependent on our electronic devices, and makes me want to attempt Edie’s mission with a reset button of my own, even if junk food would be a necessity for this critic.
– Pacing predicaments. There are more than a few instances in this film where I began losing interest in the unfolding of the story, and the plodding progression that it took to get there. For a movie that is a mere 84 minutes long, this shouldn’t be the case, and it all conveys a first script feel from writer Jesse Chatham that I wish Wright and company would’ve taken more time to omit what is completely unnecessary about this film. Some examples are in the first and third acts of the movie, where we hang in balance for a good twenty minutes waiting for any semblance of conflict or urgency to materialize. This will make for the most difficult of sits for anyone who doesn’t enjoy slowburns, and even create some adversity for those who do (Like myself), but either way I feel like there are ways to combat the one woman show gimmick that isn’t always the most entertaining in terms of fluid directions.
– Forced humor. For my money, I wish the entirety of this film would’ve persevered with minimal dialogue. I say that because the occasional relief in between sequences of drama does undercut its stakes and circumstances, and feels like it works harder towards trying to fool audiences into having a better time than what is contained. This is especially realized in the closing moments of the film, which should feel like a revolutionary whirlwind to Wright’s much-desired epiphany, but instead floats away with an afterthought that limits the triumph after the trepidation. As I previously mentioned, I did enjoy Bichir’s levity to the progression of the narrative, but I sometimes feel like his dialogue is a little too heavy-fisted and obvious for what the technique of the scene requires. If you’re a drama, be proud of the fact, and find other ways to indulge and hook your audience that don’t involve you alienating the tonal consistency of the movie’s deep seeded emotional resonance.
– The big reveal. Edie’s loss seems to play its hand during a time when it not only has the most minimal effect on the importance of the film, but also during the scene when it becomes the second most important thing to everything happening in the foreground of the story. I understand the intention is to relate Edie and Miguel in a way that makes their newfound friendship all the more mystical in the strands of fate, but I wish the film would’ve revealed it at a time earlier on when it not only gave her more time to grow from the reveal of the revelation, but also when Miguel’s situation didn’t take over the primary attention of what transpires during the pivotal third act. Maybe some more flashbacks could’ve even helped amplify interest once more before the eventual big pay-off, but as it stands it materializes as an afterthought instead of the tie that binds every emotion and action together, leaving an underwhelming climax that doesn’t fully justify the journey previously taken.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-