Claim, The

Rated: R
Stars: Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce – adapted from the novel “The Mayor of Casterbridge” by Thomas Hardy

Having its setting in California’s north country, the Sierra Nevada Mountains of 1867, this film comes across as cold both in setting and, unfortunately, in storyline because it never fully engages its audience.

It’s a sparse tale about a pioneer, Daniel Dillon, who 20 years earlier had traded his wife and baby for a down-on-his-luck prospector’s claim. Dillon (Peter Mullan) is now the top dog of Kingdom Come, a boom town he managed to create, and therefore own, with his newfound wealth. He lives in a luxurious house with his saloon and brothel running mistress, Lucia (Milla Jovovich).

One fateful day, three strangers come to town: Dalglish (Wes Bentley), a surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad looking to run some tracks through the village and two women, young Hope (Sarah Polley) and her very ill mother, Elena (Nastassja Kinski).

Dillon discovers that the women are his long-lost brood, and haunted by his past actions, he takes them under his wing, pushing aside the lovely Lucia. He becomes a genuine, generous and solid patriarch. And to ensure his town’s continued prosperity through railroad access, Dillon does all he can to sway Dalglish’s investigation.

The characters just aren’t very involving. Peter Mullan does the best job, I think, and Milla, although a very fine actress, just doesn’t get too much to do but sing, roll on the bed and give a few orders to her fleshy charges. Hope and Elena command a bit of sympathy, certainly, but their portrayals are too lusterless. Bentley is as cold as the setting and it’s hard to care for a guy who pretends to be in love with Hope as he constantly seeks comfort in the arms of the town’s various prostitutes, including its madam, Lucia.

Lotta says : The Claim offers a nice look at the times and the people who populated the boom towns but the characters are nothing more than stick figures here.

Reviewed: 7/15/01