Reel Dad: Robin Wright’s new film ‘Land’ falls short on screen

Robin Wright in "Land."

Robin Wright in "Land."

Focus Features / Contributed photo

This lady hurts.

We see her pain in every expression she shares and each word she speaks. Although we don’t know why she feels such despair we sense, with each glance, that she searches for answers to deep questions plaguing her life. We immediately care. And we want to know more.

“Land” tells the story of a woman so desperate for resolution in her life that she puts herself at risk by choosing to live alone in the high mountain wilderness. While we aren't immediately certain what she hopes to discover in this isolated environment we know, from the moment she tosses her cell phone into a garbage can, loads her rented trailer with provisions and drives miles on dirt roads into the back country of Wyoming, she is not planning a pleasure trip. This lady’s destination has less to do with where she travels on a map than how she hopes to repair her soul.

This powerful opening makes us want to explore every emotional layer of this mysterious character. Where does she come from? What happened in her life? Who did she lose? Why can’t she move on? And why does she need to go to the wilderness to close the door on her past before she can commit to move forward? But actress and director Robin Wright, working with a screenplay from Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam, fails to spend enough time exploring what’s behind the necessity of this journey before jumping into the adventures she faces. As a result, what could be a compelling look into emotional growth becomes, instead, a routine tale of a person versus nature.

That’s a shame after Wright brings such appealing sensitivity to the film’s opening. We are with her as this woman, so anxious to recover from tragedy, willingly puts herself at risk in the high mountains. But a “wilderness” film only works if we get to know the character in peril. Wright resists letting us know any more about this woman than what her reactions to the wild tell us. By keeping the character so remote, Wright makes it challenging for us to care, no matter how many bears or storms or rushing rivers this lady has to deal with.

Summary: Land

Content: Medium. How a desperate woman navigates her layers of tragedy offers a thoughtful look inside set against a beautiful backdrop.

Entertainment: Medium. Despite the commanding presence of Robin Wright, the character's despair does not seem to challenge her resilience.

Message: Medium. As meaningful as the story could be, we want to know more about the woman so we can invest in her survival.

Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to learn more about human nature can make any film relevant, but this one falls short.

Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. Anyone watching the film may want to learn more about why this lady chooses this approach to addressing her issues.

The best wilderness films work because we get to know their characters. Think of Robert Redford lost at sea in “All is Lost,” James Franco trying to survive in “127 Hours” and Reese Witherspoon challenging herself in “Wild.” Because we care about the people, we worry about the surroundings. In “Land,” Wright the actress conveys so much confidence that we are robbed of the natural suspense this type of film needs. No matter what nature may try to toss in her path, she never loses her footing. For someone so stricken, this woman is too tough to be challenged by any external force. Her interior resolve is that resolute.

Still, the film is beautiful to watch, and any chance to see Wright on screen is welcoming. But, this time, she leaves us wanting more.

“Land” is rated PG-13 for “thematic content, brief strong language, and partial nudity.” The film runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and opens Feb. 12.