With Lili Taylor, Silas Yelich, Peter Scanavino, John Ventimiglia, and Maggie Low; Written and directed by Tom Gilroy; Not rated (appropriate for ages 17 and older); 100 minutes
There are some films that are worth viewing for their cinematic beauty as much as for their acting and storyline. Some of the Academy Award-winning beauties that come to mind are “Apocalypse Now,” “Out Of Africa,” “The Mission,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Life Of Pi,” and most recently, “Gravity.” There are other films in which the entire story could be told through the cinematography alone, such as “The Passion Of The Christ,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Platoon,” “Ran,” and “Raging Bull.” These critically-acclaimed award winners and nominees do well enough visually that just about anyone could get the general storyline without a word of spoken dialogue.
THE COLD LANDS has stunning cinematography by Wyatt Garfield (“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”), a talented cast of actors (Lili Taylor, Silas Yelich, Peter Scanavino, John Ventimiglia) and a capable director (Tom Gilroy). The director shot his sophomore effort in his home town by the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York. The care that was taken to illuminate the beauty of the wooded settings is very Walden-esque. The film earns merit for the artistic expression of Gilroy, so as a piece of visual art, “The Cold Lands” is a success.
As far as conventional filmmaking goes, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Sure, one could argue that the hook of this thing is the quiet suspense that constantly puts on edge the dynamic of the characters’ relationships. But the storyline strings you along with few high points before it eventually fizzles to an unsatisfying ending.
The term “spoiler alert” would be appropriate here, if there were any big surprises to spoil. Lili Taylor is a self-sufficient single mom who dies very close after the beginning of this film because in her attempt to raise her young teen boy and teach him the ways of a free spirit, she neglects to take proper care of her serious ailment. She apparently believes that she is providing her son Atticus with sufficient survival skills to take care of himself after she is gone because she hasn’t made any kind of arrangement for guardianship or even prepared him for the inevitable demise when it is hinted that she knows what is coming. When a concerned neighbor comes looking for the boy to take care of him, the frightened kid takes off and hides in the woods, which is pretty understandable. Then he meets up with a kindred neo-hippie named Carter who makes jewelry and smokes a lot of pot.
The story turns into the tale of two misfit buddies. One lives in his car, selling his trinkets from the trunk at hippy craft festivals. The other is an orphan trying to live free of society and a legal guardian who could shelter and take care of him properly. Leaving a lot to the imagination at the end, this film had me wondering if this disheveled big brother figure who can barely take care of himself, would continue to keep Atticus under his broken wing. Or would he do the right thing and surrender the unfortunate boy to the authorities?
While I’m trying to figure it out, I’ll give this…
Dana C. Kabel is the author of several short stories, appearing in Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes, Out of the Gutter Magazine, Shotgun Honey and several others. He currently resides in New Jersey.