THE LAND tells the story of four teenage boys who devote their summer to escaping the streets of Cleveland, Ohio to pursue a dream life of professional skateboarding. But when they get ...
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THE LAND tells the story of four teenage boys who devote their summer to escaping the streets of Cleveland, Ohio to pursue a dream life of professional skateboarding. But when they get caught in the web of the local Queen-pin, their motley brotherhood is tested, threatening to make this summer their last.
The Land ranks up there with Enough (2002) and The Town (2010) as the least helpful, least effective titles in recent memory. Its a shame too because the film's well-worn narrative and cautiously on- the-nose themes are enough for most people to dismiss it whole- cloth. It's just another urban, coming-of-age drama hoping to capitalize on white liberal guilt and likely to be picked up and syndicated on IFC, they'll say. Yet there's something more than meets the eye about this film's uncompromising bleakness and belabored, intricate nodus. A none-to-immersive realism that speckles the screen with an understated fervor. We're not convinced these characters are real, but writer/director Steven Caple Jr. thinks they are. It's surprising how much mileage one can get out of that alone.
The Land centers on four chronically truant youths Patty Cake (Gavron), Boobie (Walker), Junior (Arias) and Cisco (Lendeborg) during their summer vacation. The four hope to escape their unforgiving neighborhood streets and third track expectations by stealing cars and raising enough cash to support a professional skateboarding career. By doing so however, they cross paths with one of Cleveland's most powerful drug syndicates and sink slowly into a life that may be too crooked for them to handle.
The Land follows all the similar story beats we have all come to expect, ever since Boyz n the Hood (1991) became an unexpected success. On the surface, the choices of our heroes are always clear in their truth and consequence, yet for whatever reason they're always stuck making the wrong choices at the wrong time. It can be cumbersome and by the third act it becomes wholly predictable. What an invested audience will see however is a slow motion car crash, where we know where all these little decisions are leading to, but are powerless to stop them.
That feeling of powerlessness permeates The Land, giving some a cause for contemplation. Even when the kids are goofing off, skating through blighted streets and abandoned school houses, you can just feel the tension; like the sudden woosh of air before a hammer drops. Cisco, the presumed leader of the gang insists "I don't want anyone to control me,"yet it's clear that he's being constantly molded, manipulated and controlled by an environment that's openly hostile towards him. That environment, by the way includes a manic Kim Coates whose crusty Uncle Steve would be considered Dickensian if he wasn't so outwardly pathetic. Between his uncle's ramshackle Hot Dog stand and his cousin Junior's house, Cisco gets the strong impression he's just another lost cause.
What puts The Land just a hair above the average helping of faux- realist poverty porn is Caple's often poetic inclusion of Cleveland a not just a setting but a character in the film. Large portions of the film cast the city in eternal midnight; a Gothic harbinger of sorts. Yet when the four start selling large quantities of "Molly" to transient party-goers, the city opens up with predatory proficiency. The buses and Rapid Transit System are but mucky arteries, the buildings: a facade of wealth and wellness; the carnival hints at possible pleasures - yet it's all a lie.
While many films blunt their stories with overdone melodrama or social proselytizing, The Land dares to be bleak, telling a distressing story about the cyclical, cross-generational nature of political and economic violence. Taught to either accept vocational education for jobs that no longer exist, or live a short-lived life of wild despotism, these kids are never really given a chance. In a quest for self-determination, our crew all ultimately become servants of a larger master. It's the audience's embarras de choix as to whether any of them made the right choices.
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