Tribeca Film Festival review: Abundant Acreage Available

To leave your land, or stay — that is the legacy-defining question playwright MacLachlan posits in latest indie drama

Steve Coulter, Max Gail, and Francis Guinan are strangers in a familiar land in a tight ensemble cast. With only five actors, Abundant Acreage Available explores a lot of themes, including: grief, mortality and legacy.

If vibrant colors, boisterous characters, and action-packed climaxes are why you go to the movies, then Abundant Acreage Available should be passed over when it becomes available later this year.

But for those excited at the prospects of spending 80 minutes on a subtle, independent film about a small family that’s reeling over the recent death of its patriarch, then director Angus MacLachlan’s latest piece is a perfect match.

It’s a quiet and colorless film anchored by lead actors Amy Ryan and Terry Kinney, who play Tracy and Jesse — a brother and sister who try to find meaning through their father’s absence.

There isn’t much time though — no kidding, just look at the run time — as their farm, and their existence on it, is thrown the ringer by the sudden appearance of three brothers whose family once farmed tobacco there for generations. The brothers set up camp, putting in motion an unexpected disruption from Tracy and Jesse’s unexpected disruption.

MacLachlan, best known for his screenwriting work on Junebug, returned to the Tribeca Film Festival last month after making his debut there with Goodbye to All That in 2014.

Abundant Acreage Available, which was executive produced by director Martin Scorsese and competed in the US Narrative Competition along with nine other films this year, has an entirely different tone and feel but pulls on similar thematic threads.

The North Carolina playwright seems to be obsessed with the idea of separation — not necessarily physical, although that does turn up here with the possibility of selling the land to the brothers, but spiritual.

Where newfound bachelorhood scares Otto in Goodbye to All That (which won the festival’s Best Actor prize for Paul Schneider), Tracy and Jesse struggle with the notion that their respective legacies no longer have to be tethered to their dad’s property and wishes.

They can detach, if they want.

But freeing yourself from all you’ve ever known can be a difficult task, especially after you’ve reached a certain age.

Jesse seems ready to jump headfirst into the sale, but Tracy is hesitant — OK, fine, completely resistant — disengaging from herself and becoming new.

Ryan takes the reigns over the final half of MacLachlan’s nuanced screenplay, and the Oscar nominee hits it out of the park. Her triumvirate of excellent scenes with each other the brothers (played by Steve Coulter, Max Gail, and Francis Guinan) give the film an emotional kick lacking in its first half hour. 

While wisdom is passed between the families, it ultimately becomes Tracy and Jesse’s burden to settle.

There’s plenty of land to share but is sharing the best solution when severance is still an available option?

Like any great filmmaker, MacLachlan lets us make that final assessment.

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