Land of Plenty

(USA/Germany - 2004)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Michelle Williams, John Diehl, Richard Edson, Wendell Pierce, Burt Young
Genre: Drama
Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders & Scott Derrickson based on a story by Wenders & Michael Meridith
Cinematography: Franz Lustig
Composer: Thom & Nackt
Runtime: 123 minutes

A sad disillusioned tragicomedy of angst and alienation in post 9/11 America directed in a laid back manner that accepts the citizens while bemoaning the sad state of affairs and almost sentimentally seeking a return to innocence. Lana (Michelle Williams), a loving pacifist associating with the lowly and unwanted of all races and creeds like her savior Jesus Christ, returns from the West Bank to deliver the letter her just deceased mother wrote to her brother Paul, who has shut everyone out. To this outsider missionary whose new purpose is her own country’s homeless, Los Angeles looks no less slummy than the Middle East or Africa. Like Wim Wenders, she tries to love the Land of Plenty amidst the inexplicable turmoil, poverty, and hatred.

Her uncle Paul (John Diehl) is a blindly raging fear-riddled patriot. Picking the neverending conflict up in Vietnam, his war continues because while the enemy has technically changed, it remains little more than evil incarnate. Confused and bewildered by his country’s increasing lack of identity, not to mention exposure to too many chemicals designed to instead destroy that threat to capitalist maximization known as foliage, the retraumatized vet transforms himself into a lone operative cruising the California wasteland to save the clueless humanoids from terrorist sleeper cells. Paranoia rendering every Muslim a terrorist, this wannabe superhero spends day and night in his own private war zone, secretly probing the actions of even Muslims who have been beleaguered to the point they’re no longer willing to associate themselves with a country.

It’s tempting to see Paul as an amalgamation of crazy politicians who let the country go to seed while squandering all the resources tormenting those who America could by and large coexist with for the benefit of their funders in the “defense” and rebuilding industries. Lana would then be the religious type they leave the fate of the country to: even in the best case scenario they lack the resources to make a difference in the lives of even a percentage of the local needy. But Wenders isn’t after larger political points, he’s simply crafting a small family drama, not surprisingly a bit of a road movie, where a citizen of the world tries to show a product of the endless wars a way out of his own private hell.

When Paul and Lana witness a Muslim is killed in a drive by, they launch their own inquiries. Though no method is foolproof, the point is Lana discovers his hospitable brother isn’t a terrorist without even trying.

Diehl’s portrayal is just about perfect because he’s completely serious about the importance and urgency of everything he does, and totally oblivious to how hilariously deluded he comes off. He matches Nick Nolte for assured manic conviction, with Williams perfectly cast as a calming influence. Unfortunately, Wenders typically decides to bath the film in obnoxious American pop music. At times it’s ironic enough to yield a corny video game superhero tone that’s only suitable only if your vision of Paul is an impotent screwball it's impossible not to laugh at.

Hastily shot in digital grain, Land of Plenty won’t go down as Wim Wenders greatest directorial effort, but it’s important for at least having the guts to grapple reasonably with subjects everyone else would either rather avoid or can’t get funding to tackle.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *