Robin Wright is arguably one of the best actors working in the industry today. From her breakthrough role in “The Princess Bride” to “Forrest Gump” and “House of Cards,” she’s quite compelling on screen. When the opportunity to review her latest starring and feature directorial debut, “Land,” out of the Sundance Film Festival, I couldn’t say no. Certainly far from perfect, “Land” does show promise for Wright as someone who can be as much a force of nature behind the camera. We follow her as a woman named Edee, who decides to start over living off the grid in Wyoming after facing a serious tragedy. This leads her to Demián Bichir’s character Miguel, who helps her successfully create this new lifestyle.
Emotionally, there’s a lot as both star and filmmaker that Wright has to accomplish. She has to create a meditation on grief while emphasizing the impact of the natural world. For a first-time director, that’s certainly not an easy feat to accomplish. Thankfully she strikes that balance in a way that’s never heavy-handed. The filmmaking is honest here; that’s quite moving and she knows this. As we see her navigating through this grief—without the film clearly stating what happened until the very end, we instantly sympathize with her. The addition of Bichir as the closest thing she has to a friend allows the film to have some pretty solid banter as well.
The emotionality Wright goes for gets portrayed in ways that admittedly surprised me. In one instance, we have her and Bichir singing Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule The World.” A moment as designed by Wright to be a joyous release of people getting through the pain. On the other hand, we have much darker moments, especially when she first arrives. If you’ve ever seen someone deal with detrimental amounts of grief, you’ll know what I’m referring to. It’s the combination of moments like these that allow the film serious catharsis. What that told me is that Wright certainly wanted to tackle heavy material. Unfortunately, what holds the film back from being great is something quite important.
Everything from its locations to the general aesthetic feels relatively small in a cinematic perspective. There’s just no sense of scope for something about nature from the sets to the larger locations. If you’re going for a character study, this setting could be helped to emphasize the isolation this character wants. Even with the addition of Bichir’s character, it felt as if the emotion became manipulative. It’s a balance of tones that I found admirable for Wright to tackle, but it never quite lands as it should. The hope is that she’ll be able to flex her directorial muscles more effectively in her second feature.
I wasn’t looking for a cinematic gut punch for material this heavy but wanted more than I ended up with. You can see what she wants to do, but it never clearly clicks into place as it should. That’s something I found to be somewhat frustrating because all of the pieces are there. Both Wright and Bichir deliver some excellent performances, even if the emotion never lands as it should. If anything, I can say that Wright has a great understanding of dealing with heavy material. She allows us to understand a character’s plight without us ever finding out until the finale of what actually happened. It’s a rather tricky balance to accomplish, but she does so with a solid amount of pose. Once she gets a better handle on the technical aspects, I can see her becoming a director to watch.