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Land of Plenty (2004) | DVD Review

“one of the earliest dramatic films to focus on American life after 9/11, which is quickly becoming a genre unto itself.”

Land of Plenty is a movie that tries hard to be about something important, but ends up being just a pretty good story, told beautifully, with strong performances, especially from the two leads.

Director Wim Wenders usually likes to let his audience come to their own conclusions with his films, leaving much open to interpretation; not so with Land of Plenty. Whether or not this is a good thing is…er…open to interpretation. Shot on digital video over 16 days in 2003, it’s one of the earliest dramatic films to focus on American life after 9/11, which is quickly becoming a genre unto itself. With Land of Plenty we get the usual Wenders treatment: slowish pace, inner-dialogue voiceovers, and plenty of beautiful shots of the landscape, be it Los Angeles’ inner-city or Death Valley’s desert. But we also get hit over the head with the message of the film, which, perhaps due to the blunt force of the hammer being used to hit us, is still unclear.

I was able to get past that, though, and watch Land of Plenty for what it really is: a pretty good movie about family ties. The plot revolves around Lana (brilliantly played by a pre-Brokeback Mountain Michelle Williams), an idealistic young woman returning home from missionary work in the Middle East to find her uncle, hoping to repair a long-standing rift between him and her recently deceased mother. Uncle Paul (John Diehl) is a Vietnam vet, apparently affected by exposure to Agent Pink, a pre-cursor of Agent Orange. Paul has taken it upon himself to weed out and stop potential terrorist threats, observing and staking out neighborhoods in Los Angeles from inside his Radio Shack-enhanced van. Depending on your political leanings he may seem like a hero or an idiot, but Diehl manages to make him a sympathetic misguided soul. Fate leads Paul to be outside the homeless mission where Lana works on a night when a man of Middle Eastern origin that he’d been tailing is gunned down right out front. This leads the two of them on a road trip to a Death Valley trailer park, each with their own goals.

Wim Wenders was once heralded as a visionary filmmaker for his early works (such as Alice in the Cities, Paris, Texas, and Wings of Desire), but he hasn’t really done anything of note in almost twenty years, unless you count a documentary about a Cuban band touring the U.S. or a vanity project for U2’s Bono as noteworthy. Land of Plenty is a solid story, played out around some lovely scenery. There are a few powerful moments, including a scene involving Gloria Stuart (the older Rose in Titanic) that leads to Paul’s epiphany about his life’s work. The soundtrack is particularly strong, including original compositions by Thomas Hanreich and a couple of Leonard Cohen tunes that accurately capture the melancholy tone of the film.

The DVD is relatively stingy on bonus features, not to mention the fact that there’s only a 2.0 stereo mix, no 5.1 Surround. The disc includes a run of the mill 10 minute ‘making-of’ with director and actor interviews. Nothing too interesting there, except when Wenders talks about how this movie had to be low-budget, as the point of the film would get lost in a big budget production. As opposed to?
There are eight deleted scenes (no commentary) that make it more apparent that the film is a political statement about how the government should look closer to home for problems to solve instead of focusing all of their attention on foreign policy.
As for the feature commentary track, we get Wim Wenders explaining everything you’d ever want to know about what you can and can’t do with a mini-DV cam and a limited budget. Not much is said about the plot of the film; it’s more about what everybody went through in the process of getting it made. It is, however, interesting stuff for a budding filmmaker to listen to, or perhaps a die-hard fan of Wim Wenders.

I’m not one for films with a political or social point to get across, but I still enjoyed Land of Plenty for its story and performances. If you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, you could do a lot worse than to rent this film. Who knows? Maybe the hammer to the head won’t hurt too much either.

Movie rating – 3

Disc Rating – 2

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