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With: Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley, Shirley Henderson
Written by: Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy
Directed by: Michael Winterbottom
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, and some language and violence
Running Time: 120
Date: 12/29/2000

The Claim (2000)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Gold Rush Story That Just Trudges

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The moment Michael Winterbottom's The Claim begins, the facade reveals itself. In the continually falling wet snow, grimy gold miners, stagecoach drivers, and various workmen begin unloading a coach that has just arrived in town. Sweet Sarah Polley and her mother (Nastassja Kinski) wander around, confused by their new surroundings. Men begin fighting over supplies. Two men get into a scuffle and Winterbottom's camera does the predictable--it begins jerking and shaking to simulate the chaos of the fight (an effect first used, to my knowledge, by Stanley Kubrick in 1956, and has long since become old and weary). And yet these people all seem like well-fed Hollywood extras.

Winterbottom has taken exquisite pains to build a realistic-looking Gold Rush village, circa 1860's in California, but something about it immediately looks like a set. Before long it becomes evident why; this story is little more than a conventional soap opera and offers nothing new or exciting.

In a flashback we learn that gold town baron (Peter Mullan) sold his wife and child in exchange for riches. Finally free, the wife and child (Kinski and Polley) return to the town of Kingdom Come. Mullan is romantically linked with a newer, younger model (Milla Jovovich) and Polley meets up with a handsome railroad man (Wes Bentley).

Basically we kill time while characters jump from bed to bed and slowly reveal their innermost secrets to one another. While we wait, characters tromp through the snow a lot. I passed the time by laughing gently to myself every time anyone said the name of Bentley's character, Dalglish, which sounds like "Dog leash."

Winterbottom has already strayed into Thomas Hardy territory once with his Jude (1996), which I didn't see, and I don't know of anyone else who saw it either. Probably just as many people are going to see The Claim. I'm sure I was supposed to feel a sense of literary history as I watched the tasteful images unfold, but I was bored and nothing more.

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