September 9, 2007 -- “The Claim” is a modern Western based on a novel by Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge. It comes off as an extremely slow-moving psychological study about the price people sometimes pay for the choices they make. In this particular case, a man makes a choice between wealth and love. He gets rich, but later comes to regret his choice. Tragically, he tries to reverse his choice late in life, but it doesn't work out.
Daniel Dillon (played by Peter Mullan of “Children of Men”) has run out of luck prospecting in the High Sierra Mountains of California. He has no money and is trudging through deep snow when he and his wife and child are invited into the warmth of another miner's tent. The miner has struck gold, but finds his fortune is empty. What he really wants is a wife, a family. The two men agree to a trade, the wife and child for the mining claim. Years later, in 1868, Dillon is a rich man, about to become richer because the town he founded, Kingdom Come, is about to become a stop on the nation's first transcontinental railroad. He wines and dines the young surveyor, Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley of “American Beauty”), hoping to get a favorable placement for the railroad route. About the same time, Dillion's wife Elena (Natasha Kinski of “Terminal Velocity”) and daughter, Hope (Sarah Polley of “Dawn of the Dead”) the very people he sold, arrive in town.
Hope falls in love with Dalglish, while Dillon breaks off his longtime affair with a local hooker, Lucia (Milla Jovovich of “The Fifth Element”). He decides to re-marry his former wife, Elena, even though she is dying. Elena, who is very poor and wants to provide for her daughter, agrees to marry Dillon, who also hopes to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Hope. She does not know that Dillon is her father. Things eventually come to a head. Dillon confronts Dalglish, Lucia and Hope. Lucia sets her sights on Dalglish as well. There are some romantic double-crossings going on in this soap opera. There are also some shootings. Even the shootings, however, lack energy or urgency. The various romances lack conviction and the confrontations don't seem very emotional, either. Everything in this film is so slow-moving and low-key that it was all I could do to stay awake.
The scenery is gorgeous in this film, although it is very dark most of the time. It was filmed in the Canadian Rockies and the mountains in the background are magnificent. Most of the outdoor scenes appear to have been filmed in the winter. There is snow everywhere, except for the mud. There is also a stunning sequence showing a large house belonging to Dillon being dragged along the ground by men and horses. It reminded me of the scene in “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” where the boat is dragged through the jungle. If the story was as crisp as the snow, and the plot advanced faster than a glacier, this might have been a better film. I'm glad I didn't spend more than a dollar on this. It rates a C.
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