Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge
has been transplanted to the edge of the American frontier in this vivid drama that didn't receive the theatrical exposure it deserved. Although top young actors adorn the movie's ads, the central character--Daniel Dillon, a man who runs the gold rush town of Kingdom Come--is played by little-known Peter Mullen. In the dead of winter in 1849, three people arrive in town, changing irrevocably Dillon's life. One is Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley), the clear-thinking leader of a railroad prospect crew who will determine where the railroad line--and a new line of wealth--will be built. The others are a mother and daughter (Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley) who have a past connection to Dillon and the knowledge of how he became rich. As events unfold--in pure Hardy fashion--Dillon finds himself facing a crossroads, with one path leading to redemption. The cast is uniformly brilliant, but special praise must go to Mullen, who carries the film's dramatic weight, and to Bentley, who is so composed in a role completely dissimilar to his breakthrough work in American Beauty
. Director Michael Winterbottom (who adapted another Hardy piece with his film Jude
) and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler have fashioned their film after Robert Altman's landmark McCabe and Mrs. Miller
in the natural, earthy feel of a frontier town. The film opened in 2000 and deservedly appeared on a few top 10 lists, then was rereleased the following year. --Doug Thomas
Against the dramatic backdrop of the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, The Claim's richly textured story of love, betrayal, loss and redemption unfolds. This "beautifully acted" (Premiere) tale strikes pure gold with an all-star cast featuring Wes Bentley (American Beauty), MillaJovovich (The Fifth Element), Peter Mullan (Miss Julie), Sarah Polley (Go) andNastassja Kinski (Tess) and is "one of the best movies in recent memory" (Elle). It's 1869 and Daniel Dillon (Mullan) has made a fortune off his claim to gold-rich property in California. He knows that if his prosperity is to continue, he must convince a railroad planner (Bentley) to connect the new line through his town. But the plans to bring the train are derailed when, on a cold, wintry day, a mother (Kinski) and daughter (Polley) mysteriously arrive, revealing a shocking connection to Dillon one that could devastate his town, his life and his empire.