Land of Plenty
Just as he did with his acclaimed film Paris, Texas, German filmmaker Wim Wenders turns his attention to American culture with Land of Plenty. Supplanting the West in the former movie with the politics of post-9/11 American society in the latter, Wenders adopts the role of the outsider looking in, a point of view which can provide a fresh outlook. Unfortunately, while the film reflects a global vision of all sides of the issues surrounding the causes and effects of the tragedy of 9/11, its aspirations get in the way of its cohesiveness.
DVD Review: Land of Plenty
Coming back to the United States from the Middle East, Lana (Michelle Williams) has decided to find her only living relative in her uncle Paul (John Diehl) to give him a letter written by his sister on her death bed while on a mission in Africa. With a big heart sympathetic to all those less fortunate, Lana provides the corresponding perspective while Paul’s Vietnam-vet-now-counter-terrorist offers the angrier, more paranoid side of the 9/11 conflict. Paul is convinced that a terrorist strike on LA is imminent, and by coincidence, a Middle Eastern man Paul’s surveillance has led him to winds up at the mission where Lana feeds the needy in downtown LA. After way too much brooding and whispering in soliloquy, the two embark on a journey that forces their differing outlooks to come together.
It is in these moments when the discourse being traded runs the movie into a brick wall with dialogue that sounds like fingernails running down a chalkboard. While one can only hope that viewers agree with Lana’s more progressive philosophy that the victims of 9/11 probably don’t want any more blood spilled on their behalf, cramming social commentary in the mouths of your characters doesn’t make for good storytelling.
A lot of Land of Plenty looks like it may have been better off as a documentary than a fictitious film. Granted, there are a few instances where the characters’ interaction provides room for them to interject with their political opinions, as when Lana and the mission’s leader discuss the impoverished streets of downtown LA upon her arrival. However, abusing this device severely detracts from the story when it should instead be utilizing scenes like the one when Paul is searching for evidence of terrorist activity in a dumpster and his cell phone rings with the National Anthem as his ringtone. A little moment like this one speaks louder about the Patriot Act than having two characters’ dialogue be directly related to the topic.
The DVD includes a commentary by renowned director Wim Wenders and a ‘Making Of’ feature where Wenders explains that it is nearly impossible to make a big-budget production in the United States with the type of heavy politics in this film. Though true for the most part, when the politics are hidden in the story, this feat can be accomplished. For instance, when American soldiers are ordered to cease fire while refugees continue to struggle at the end of David O. Russell’s Three Kings, the film shows as much disgust for U.S. foreign policy as Lana displays in Land of Plenty. This could go likewise for Paul in Wenders’s movie, but the film doesn’t seem to know how to treat him. At one moment he is reminiscent of Bill Murray in Caddyshack, only instead of gophers he’s chasing terrorists, and in the next he’s hunkered down talking about Charlie in the jungle and having violent nightmares like he’s Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. While writing to a friend online in the Middle East, it’s made known that Lana wants to help the world by becoming a writer. Hopefully, she’ll learn to voice her politics with her characters rather than through them.
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