Published May 01, 2001Based on Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge," "The Claim," directed by Michael Winterbottom, is a film set in 1867 about the pursuit of power and gold an unfulfilling path on which "man loses heart" and its gut-wrenching consequences. Set in the rugged terrain of Kingdom Come, Northern California, viewers are treated to the trials of Mr. Dillon (Peter Mullan), the film's tragic hero, and the unfolding of his secrets upon the arrival of his kin and a hot, young dynamo named Dalglish (American Beauty's Wes Bentley).
The palette is as warm as whiskey inside (the brothel, the saloon, and the ponderosa) and as stark as glacial white outside (amid the snow-topped rugged peaks and blustery plains of ice). The extremes are played out from beginning to end, in colour, emotion and theme. As soon as Hope (Sarah Polley), her ailing mother Elena (Nastassja Kinski) and railroad engineer Dalglish hop off their respective horse-drawn carriages, Dillon can't help but look in the mirror and see his reflection and the opulence that surrounds him. Days into run-ins with the new crew and the flashbacks they inspire, he sees that his material splendour and young lover Lucia (Milla Jovovich) only mask the truth beneath. Can Dillon save himself? Or is it too late? Lucky for him, Elena, a picture of forgiveness on her sick bed, lives by the credo: "Never give up on someone you love, no matter what they do." But more affecting in the end, we discover that Dillon, tortured soul, can't forgive himself. At his depths, nothing else matters but the real cost of deciding to take "the claim" 20 years ago in trade for a loving wife and child.
Compelling direction by Winterbottom throughout: The pace is slow and even, played up by the ethereal Michael Nyman soundtrack, and the transitions from past to present (via the young and old couples) are seamless, thanks to soft focus camera work. The most symbolic and gorgeous still shot in the film is of charred wood in flames behind melting ice the perfect juxtaposition of hot and cold, rage and silence, passion and apathy.