LAND OF PLENTYNR
Land of Plenty isn't for everyone, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a poignant look at life in America today. The screenplay by director Wim Wenders and Michael Meredith, from an original story by Wenders and Scott Derrickson, concerns Lana (Michelle Williams), a young woman returning to live in the U.S. after years abroad. While working as a missionary, Lana tries to locate her only living relative, an uncle named Paul (John Diehl), but once she finds him, he wants nothing to do with her. Paul is a Vietnam veteran living in fear of outsiders attacking America; he travels in a van throughout the day and night spying on people who look suspicious to him. Finally, Paul allows Lana into his life when a sudden and unexpected killing of an Arab man forces them together in order to figure out the mystery behind the murder.
Coincidentally, Land of Plenty premieres just weeks after the theatrical debut of Jen Cohen's Chain, which is also about two contrasting characters living and working in contemporary America. The difference between the two films is that the characters in Chain (both women) never meet, although they share similar experiences in the industrialized super-landscapes of the U.S. Land of Plenty uses much more of a conventional plot (including the mystery element) and many additional supporting characters. Chain was meant to be a pensive cinematic essay, while Land of Plenty is full of emotion and melodrama.
It will be surprising to Wenders' fans that the director's latest effort takes so few risks, but Land of Plenty has a built-in hook with its plot (which resembles a postmodern Man Who Knew Too Much), a visually arresting style thanks to the use of wide-angle lenses in digital video, and some reflective thoughts about the post-9/11 world. By the end of the film, one ought to be moved by the haunting revelations. The musical score by Thom & Nackt adds greatly to the evocative atmosphere.
However, Land of Plenty would be stronger if the main characters were less one-dimensional-Lana is too naive and goodhearted, Paul is too manic and paranoid. The first choice for the role of Paul, Bill Pullman, would have been preferable to John Diehl, who is quite weak. It's hard not to admire a film whose treatment was developed in just three days and whose shoot took only 16 days, but perhaps a bit more time spent on development and execution would have offered greater dividends.