Tuesday, October 11, 2022

God's Country (2022)


One thing you won't catch Clint Eastwood doing in any of his films is attempting de-escalation. 

This quietly wonderful movie, which has been rattling around inside my head since we watched it, is based on the short story Winter Light by James Lee Burke, one of my favourite contemporary American genre novelists. 

I have not read this little tale, but I gather that it features, like many set in the American wilderness, a seclusive mature man who has been suppressing the violence within him until some inexorable provocation comes along. 

This is not a trope limited to Westerns of course. We find it in John Wick for example, a movie God's Country comes to echo in one significant and utterly predictable fashion. 

Here though the withdrawn white male has been replaced by a woman of mixed heritage in what is far from a lazy woke twist. It unquestionably adds significant layers to the tragedy (...of John Wick?) that unfolds, and even so, the important thing here is not what sort of person interacts with the predicament, but the fact that the role is undertaken by Thandiwe Newton so magnificently. 

She plays Sandra, a university professor, living an isolated life in a vast snow-clad valley in Montana. For reasons that we come to feel more than fully understand, she acts a little heavy-handedly with two hunters that park outside her home without asking nicely first. 

This sets off the chain of reciprocal affronts, yet there are moments when Sandra seems to be putting out feelers, attempting an accommodation with the ways of her new community. The trouble is, they appear far less able to cross over to her POV. 

Captain Ahab famously got over-personal with the whale. For Sandra, the reverse happens, she loses sight of the individuals she has been working to flesh out and instead comes to intuit that she is up against an entire de-personalised system — or at least one made up of individuals that are exemplars of everything she can no longer just live with. 

I have felt this ambiguity of motive in my own life over the past few years and I think this conflation of the personal and the collective, more than anything, is what makes God's Country an extraordinary movie for our present moment. 

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