Tuesday, 28 April 2015

bad land: road to fury

bad land: road to fury is a post-apocalyptic western about a family struggling to survive in a dry, barren environment where water is scarce and society is struggling to piece itself back together.

the film is split into three parts and follows the trials and tribulations of the holm family - first the father, ernest, played by michael shannon, then nicholas hoult's character flem who marries ernest's daughter and finally ernest's son, jerome (played by kodi smit-mcphee) who must uncover the truth about what happened in his family's past. over the course of the film we see the family move from being struggling couriers to prospering farmers, but prosperity comes at a high cost.

while bad land appears to share much in common with post-apocalyptic sci-fi classics such as mad max (in fact the 'road to fury' subtitle appears to be an attempt to cash in on the hype for the soon to be released mad max reboot/sequel 'fury road') the story and structure actually has more in common with something more grounded like the place beyond the pines. like that film, the story is told from the perspectives of three characters in turn and shows how one traumatic event ripples through generations. there are also some clear nods to classic westerns, particularly in nathan johnson's score and the editing style. the epic, barren landscapes, more sergio leone than george miller, make for a truly awe-inspiring and equally terrifying location that often becomes a character in its own right. taking all that into account, i struggled to see why this film was set in the future at all. the story, essentially about family, opportunity and fortune, seemed timeless and other than the lack of water the only real sci-fi element is a robot mule that, while significant to the plot, doesn't seem a strong enough reason to set the whole film in the future.

that said, the sci-fi element doesn't detract from the story. director jake paltrow has pulled out three impressive central performances from shannon, hoult and smit-mcphee that really pull the strands of the plot together to form a powerful drama. the relationship between shannon's troubled father trying to make up for past mistakes and smit-mcphee's eager if physically inadequate son is heart-wrenching at times, and the moment when jerome finds out the truth had me in tears. i suppose smit-mcphee must be pretty used to post-apocalyptic environments and troubled father figures by now though, as he also played the boy in the road. hoult also does a great job playing against type as a slimy, opportunistic bad guy. what's great about having someone like hoult play this character is that you can totally see why the characters, including jerome's sister played by elle fanning, are taken in by him. speaking of the sister it's a real shame fanning isn't given more to do in this film. she has some nice moments and she plays them very well, but it's a pretty thankless role and to be honest the female characters in classic westerns usually had more going on for them than her character does here.

there are no real surprises here, bad land kind of does what you expect it to do and goes where you expect it to go, but it does so with some excellent performances and dramatic moments along the way, plus the sci-fi element does keep it interesting even if it ultimately doesn't go anywhere. definitely worth checking out, if only to see nicholas hoult nailing the slimy villain role.

bad land: road to fury is released in cinemas 1st may and dvd & digital hd on monday 4th may

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