Photo: ‘God’s Country’
Shades of Influence
In Julian Higgins’s debut feature, ‘God’s Country’ we don’t hear his protagonist speak for the first several minutes. Sandra (Thandiwe Newton), a university professor in Western Montana, solemnly watches a casket slide into a crematorium. Later, she takes her pickaxe to the frozen topsoil to bury the ashes, where nothing but the sound of clinking metal whispers to the Montana sky.
Things to do:
- Subscribe to The Hollywood Insider’s YouTube Channel, by clicking here.
- Limited Time Offer – FREE Subscription to The Hollywood Insider
- Click here to read more on The Hollywood Insider’s vision, values and mission statement here – Media has the responsibility to better our world – The Hollywood Insider fully focuses on substance and meaningful entertainment, against gossip and scandal, by combining entertainment, education, and philanthropy.
The shots are vast, wide, and empty. As barren as the plains they capture, and quiet as the wind that whistles through them. Higgins and his cinematographer Andrew Wheeler do much to make emptiness a dynamic force in the film, whether it’s in the sound mixing or cinematography. The cast of ‘God’s Country’ is overtaken by the looming harshness of their winter surroundings. You can feel the cold stripping every character down to his and her rawness. After all, you might think a film called ‘God’s Country’ has ideas of underscoring the ultimate realities to which we are all subject. Sometimes, it’s explicitly stated. Later in the film, Sandra says something like “when you look at the mountains, it feels like you’re looking back in time, back to the very beginning.” The characters of the film are subject to their landscape, one to which Sandra is new.
Despite nothing being said, the mood is palpable. We come to learn it was Sandra’s mother who had died. It’s hard not to think of ‘There Will Be Blood’, as no doubt Higgins was when crafting his own opening. Yet the comparison between these two films is cheap and unwarranted. In many ways, Higgins, despite a strong performance by Newton, tries to replicate the feel of a film of that caliber, but it comes off as a facsimile of a better film, not a companion to one.
Related article: MUST WATCH – The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s Love Letter to Black Lives Matter – VIDEO
Related article: Why Queen Elizabeth II Is One Of The Greatest Monarchs | Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of United Queendom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (Video Insight)
Related article: All Best Actor/Actress Speeches From The Beginning Of Oscars 1929-2019 | Hollywood Insider
After Sandra buries her mother, the film progresses by days — each one a chapter in the story. With each day, her feud with a pair of hunters, Nathan (Joris Jarsky) and Samuel (Jefferson White) escalate. When the pair park their truck on her property, Sandra leaves a note warning them not to trespass. The next day they return, denying having seen any note. When Sandra confronts them Nathan firmly explains that her property is the best hunting spot for miles, while Samuel simmers behind him. Both have the presence of men who don’t mess around. Nathan is the more social of the two while Samuel has an unhinged, wild card look. Unfortunately for them, Sandra isn’t messing around either. The next morning their bright truck is back, so she tows it herself. Then she finds an arrow in her front door.
Related article: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase: “The Importance of Venice Film Festival as the Protector of Cinema”
Related article: The Masters of Cinema Archives: The Hollywood Insider Pays Tribute to ‘La Vie En Rose’, Exclusive Interview with Director Olivier Dahan
Related article: – Want GUARANTEED SUCCESS? Remove these ten words from your vocabulary| Transform your life INSTANTLY
Thus begins a violent game of chicken, one based on the short story “Winter Light” by James Lee Burke. In this version, though, Sandra is a middle-aged Black woman, opening up the script to more dimensions than it knew what to do with. For a film steeped in silence and the austerity of the unsettled American West, Higgins crosses wires by wading too explicitly into the loudness of current sociopolitical issues. An adept director would have allowed her mere presence to carry the weight of her situation while maintaining the thematic importance of silence in the film. Higgins does make some silent gestures to Sandra’s fish-out-of-water position, like in one scene when she resolutely places an old photo of her hometown community church on her mantle. It’s well done, emotional, and speaks volumes. A scene like that alone could have carried the thematic weight without skewing the focus of the film. But instead, Higgins overplays the film’s involvement in social issues, muddying its overall voice and mood.
Related video: Full Commentary – Cast & Crew Spills Secrets on Making of ‘Elvis’ | In-Depth Scoop | Austin Butler
Related video: Full Rendezvous At the Premiere of ‘Elvis’ with Reactions from Stars | Austin Butler, Baz Luhrmann
Related video: Come Behind The Scenes of ‘Elvis’ | Austin Butler, Tom Hanks and Baz Luhrmann
In one scene, Sandra is shown to be the only one of her colleagues to not support the new small town’s department hiring three white people adding to her isolated position as the only person of color. It leads Sandra to have a heated argument with her boss (Kai Lennox), Arthur, about inclusive hiring, despite earlier conversations in the film that demonstrate the department’s commitment to diversity. “It’s the whole big song and dance about the process, but it’s the same damn result,” says Sandra frustrated. Tensions boil over until her boss says what you fear he will say: “You’re here. We hired you, didn’t we?” The film teases a few social themes out, then ultimately abandons them for the original (and far more compelling) storyline of her escalating battle of wills with two hunters.
The main problem with ‘God’s Country’ is that it distracts itself from an otherwise straightforward story about grief, boundaries, and human will. All of ‘God’s Country’s strength lay in its atmosphere, and when it focuses on that, it really works. Unfortunately, it tries to marry the less important baggage of Sandra’s backstory with its religious overtones, but together they create dissonance, not harmony. Higgins is trying to make two different movies into one, and they prove mutually exclusive. Either one would’ve been good enough, but the social struggle embedded into the film detracts from the emotional weight of Sandra’s situation and ultimately her decisions. When it comes to God’s Country some things are best left unsaid, but in pursuit of profundity, Higgins says too much.
Catch Newton in her role as Maeve Millay in ‘Westworld’ as the HBO show looks to wrap up.
CAST AND CREW:
Dir: Julian Higgins
Writers: Julian Higgins, Shaye Ogbonna
Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Kai Lennox, Tanaya Beatty
By Patrick Lynott
Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.
I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV, media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.”
More Interesting Stories From The Hollywood Insider
– Want GUARANTEED SUCCESS? Remove these ten words from your vocabulary| Transform your life INSTANTLY
– A Tribute to Martin Scorsese: A Complete Analysis of the Life and Career of the Man Who Lives and Breathes Cinema
– Do you know the hidden messages in ‘Call Me By Your Name’? Find out behind the scenes facts in the full commentary and In-depth analysis of the cinematic masterpiece
– A Tribute To The Academy Awards: All Best Actor/Actress Speeches From The Beginning Of Oscars 1929-2019 | From Rami Malek, Leonardo DiCaprio To Denzel Washington, Halle Berry & Beyond | From Olivia Colman, Meryl Streep To Bette Davis & Beyond
– In the 32nd Year Of His Career, Keanu Reeves’ Face Continues To Reign After Launching Movies Earning Over $4.3 Billion In Total – “John Wick”, “Toy Story 4”, “Matrix”, And Many More
god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country, god’s country
Patrick Lynott is a writer and screenwriter. He cares about Cinema. He cares about meaningful stories. And he cares about preserving and elevating things that people work long and hard on.Despite the incessant barrage of “content” vying for his (and everyone’s) attention, he believes it’s never been more important to pedestalize labors of real art across from a spectrum of voices. The Hollywood Insider is one of the few networks committed to doing this through substantive coverage of quality entertainment. The future of good Cinema and healthy culture relies on outlets and people willing to champion those values. Here’s to that future.