Robin Wright was presumably compensating for her part in House of Cards when she nabbed the script for Land to be her directorial debut. The acclaimed actress puts in a sound performance as mourning self-exile Edee, but doesn’t direct with any passion or verve. Wright has certainly built up enough goodwill in Hollywood to get more chances behind the camera – ever since The Princess Bride, she’s seemingly been everywhere – but her sophomore film must be more of a springboard than the empty trampoline Land unfortunately proves.
Some time after a horrible shock which leaves her alone in the world, Edee moves to the woods to be alone. A single line in voiceover explains her rationale, but nothing she does particularly makes sense after this. An isolated cabin in Wyoming becomes her adopted home, with all the weather difficulties you might expect. (Apparently Edee didn’t think about this, or she would’ve packed more than a west coast wardrobe.) There’s lots of opening sad cans of food and learning how to chop wood, and frankly not much more in the early stages. Flashbacks to loved ones gone away are peppered in. For a few moments I thought her late husband Adam (Warren Christie) was being played by Eric Bana. That brief mistake was the most joy I had during Land.
Unexpected visitors find Edee at her lowest ebb and she is forced to start engaging again with the world around her. With reluctance. She insists on no news from outside (relatable) and shuns any unnecessary contact (also relatable). Amid a global pandemic in which we’ve all found ourselves isolated to a quite extreme degree, Land will probably wriggle its way into a lot of people’s affections. It already has. Edee is a somewhat intriguing character; I can think of people in my life who could really bond with her.
The trouble is, Land just isn’t very good. It feels like a bestselling (albeit schmaltzy) novel weakly adapted to the screen, a sturdy piece of writing with not nearly enough thought about how to bring it to life. First-time feature directors often work with experienced cinematographers; this time is no different, with Arlington Road DP Bobby Bukowski shooting. But Bukowski and Wright’s combined decades in the film business aren’t enough to stop Land looking, plainly, amateurish at times. It may be a well thought-out and well-acted story. But few would admit it’s well made.