In Cinemas May 1st 2015
On DVD & Digital HD May 4th 2015 from Signature Entertainment
Director – Jake Paltrow
Cast – Michael Shannon, Nicholas Holt, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit- McPhee, Robert Hobbs, Aimee Mullins.
Set in the future, America’s water resources have all but disappeared, with global warming leading to droughts and punishing high temperatures. With the general population, hiding away in cities, farmer Ernest (Michael Shannon) remains secluded and defiantly believing that his dirt is fertile enough to produce food once he can procure and maintain a good water supply. Wife Katherine (Aimee Mullins) is paralysed and in a local rehab centre near by so Ernest is left to look after daughter Mary ( Elle Fanning) who is at an age where she is madly in love with Flem (Nicholas Hoult) and wants to run away to a bigger and better life.
Son Flem (Kodi Smit – McPhee) is quite and unassuming and ready to follow in his fathers footsteps in locating water and making a better life for his small family. Struggling through the punishing conditions, Ernest hopes to bribe local water pipe workers to circumvent precious water to his land, therefore avoiding foreclosure on his land and getting the bountiful crop he so very much needs. However, Flem and his family were previously tainted by Ernest’s fair business practises in the past and is seeking revenge for damages caused, and worms his way into the families affairs, becoming husband to Mary and a much needed father figure to Jerome, who becomes immediately unsettled by the intruder, especially when he sees unhelpful behaviour from the interloper.
Bad Land – Road to Fury establishes a gritty setting, visiting a well portrayed Western setting and landscape,providing an unconventional and workable home for Ernest and his dust encrusted family. A government of sorts exists in the world trying to placate the masses with water and food distribution, food being essentially foil packed goop. Ernest, having made some bad decisions and having made a mess of his life, is determined to prove everybody wrong and show that his land can produce crops and even alcohol which he distributes to the local community.
One of the themes of Bad Land – Road to Fury is failure,watching Ernest play out his life day after day, with the reality of the mistakes he has made in the past. His pride is important to him and he wants to prove to himself that the impossible can be done. The shadow of Ernest’s alcoholism is never too far from his thoughts as he tries to maintain a sense of his community leadership. This brings the movie into focus as you hope Paltrow doesn’t copy too many dystopian tropes and his focus lies in character and more intimate discussions.
A good addition to the flow of the movie is the ‘chapters’ of each section, seen from a different characters point of view, detailing each characters motivations and understandings. The idea is interesting and commendable, but it does feel a little unearned. Supporting characters don’t hang about when the screenplay might well have been stronger if their presence had been felt for longer. After a strong opening, the film stumbles, watching the director pay more attention to aspects of filmmaking mostly unnoticed by the casual viewer, the editing too strong and transitions too jarring for a narrative flow to be cohesive.
A strength of the movie with a film this size is its visual aesthetic. While not overall ingrained in the film the touches of technology in the film are interesting. For example, on Ernest’s farm they use an walking aid called a ‘Simulit’ essentially a metal cow with a basket instead of a body, so items can be carried long distances, its an oddity within the film but a nice touch. Also, scenes involving a character who washes plates with ‘clean’ dirt is a novelty and a nice touch.
Other strengths include intentional or not, its homages to western genre tropes, like Paltrow’s tendency to show close ups on eyes and music ala Ennio Morriconne. With a small budget and a well known cast, Paltrow uses his script and characters very well.