Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2000
Michael Winterbottom is as unpredictable as he is prolific. His works range from laugh-out-loud comedy (24 Hour Party People) to kitchen sink drama (Wonderland) to Oscar bait (A Mighty Heart) to one of the worst movies ever made (9 Songs). A favourite hobby of his is the idiosyncratic adaptation of classic literature, especially Thomas Hardy, whose novel The Mayor of Casterbridge finds new life in the fish-and-chip western The Claim.
During the California Gold Rush, Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan) is an out-of-luck prospector who sells his own wife and infant daughter to a lonely prospector in exchange for untold riches. Twenty years later, Dillon is the mayor of his own town, Kingdom Come, whose fate is soon to be determined by the route of a proposed railroad represented by Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley). Unfortunately, Dalglish arrives at the same time as Dillon’s now-dying ex-wife (Nastassja Kinski) and their now-grown daughter (Sarah Polley, at maximum cuteness).
There are a lot of things I could say about this movie. I could tell you to watch it just to show you why cinematographers love working with snow. I could tell you to watch just to see what kind of range you can get from the same screenwriter who did A Cock and Bull Story. I could tell you to watch just for the amazement of seeing a humble Wessex tale retold as a western epic. Instead, I’ll tell you to watch because of Peter Mullan. At the time the film was released, Wes Bentley and Milla Jovovich were hot stuff, and their supporting roles were way overemphasized in the advertising for this film. Peter Mullan is barely in the poster, but he is the goddamn movie. See it right away. A