The Claim | Chicago Reader

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In this melodrama inspired by Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, the founder of a Sierra Nevada town called Kingdom Come tries to atone for something he did during the gold rush 20 years before. Ponderous camera work emphasizes the harshness of the mountain winter and its effect on the characters, including an assertive young woman and her resourceful mother who've just arrived in town, an opportunistic surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad, and the owner of the brothel, who's also the founder's mistress. In a contrast that's meant to be instructive, a prostitute and one of the surveyor's assistants resolve the practical and emotional aspects of their relationship in a way that seems to elude the principals mainly because the plot drives them instead of the other way around. Stylistic choice or unfortunate side effect of the adaptation process? Either way, their greed and lust, loyalty and honor remain abstractions illustrated by cliches. Michael Winterbottom directed a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce; with Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, Nastassja Kinski, Peter Mullan, and Sarah Polley. 120 min.

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