'The Cold Lands' Movie Review

"The Cold Lands" Movie Review: 2 1/2 Stars

by Boyd van Hoeij

After the sudden death of his mother, a taciturn boy heads for the hills in "The Cold Lands," the sophomore feature of director Tom Gilroy ("Spring Forward").

The kid survives on his own in the woods of upstate New York before befriending a grungy drifter who happily scrapes by off the grid.


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The early going sets out the anti-establishment ideas of neo-hippie mom Nicole (Lili Taylor), who instructs her son, Atticus (Silas Yelich), to toss out the cupcakes brought by a well-meaning church lady (Maggie Low) who's clearly worried about Nicole's health, but doesn't know she has diabetes (and refuses outside help).

Since mom always instructed him to avoid the authorities, 11-year-old Atticus leaves their idyllically located house -- replete with bathing pond -- as soon as the sheriff comes looking for the boy after Nicole's unexpected death.

By this point, "Lands" has already signaled that Atticus occasionally slips into fantasy-dream mode a la "Beasts of the Southern Wild." But these sequences don't offer a more complex look at the boy's inner life, which is problematic, because there's not a lot of dialogue for the long stretch he's on his own in the Catskills, "Into the Wild"-style.

In this first-half action, there are a few psychology 101-style confrontations with his mom (read: conscience), such as when Atticus steals an iPod ("Do you really need that?" intones the cliched voiceover), as well as an enigmatic encounter with a possibly imagined deer.

It doesn't help that non-pro Yelich, who's only earlier credit is an appearance in R.E.M.'s Gilroy-directed music video "It Happened Today," is "Benetton"-ad photogenic but not expressive enough to suggest what he's thinking without using words.

"Lands" finally roars back to life when Atticus runs into Carter (Peter Scanavino), a charismatic, morally upright and resourceful wanderer who works the odd job until he gets fired and who moonlights as a necklace salesman.

The duo stick together even after Carter's figured out Atticus is the missing kid from the posters, and their relaxed banter and growing bond ring true.

It's clear Gilroy is simpatico to his characters' way of refusing to live within society's predefined framework.

But by choosing to make his case through the eyes of a traumatized 11-year-old who can't clearly reason for himself -- and remains underdeveloped at the script level -- the writer-director muddies the film's point of view. An attempt to connect the lead characters' struggles with the Anti-Rent War, which also took place in upstate New York, is handled in similarly awkward fashion, remaining narratively superfluous and thematically nebulous.


No MPAA rating. Running time: 1:40.


"The Cold Lands" Movie Trailer

When his fiercely self-reliant mother dies unexpectedly, eleven year-old Atticus is wary of the authorities and flees deep into the forests of his Catskills home. His sheltered, off-the-grid childhood is over, and a new life on the move has begun. As Atticus wanders the woods in a daze, relying on whatever food and shelter he can find, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. When he encounters Carter, a scruffy, pot smoking drifter who lives out of his car and sells necklaces at music festivals, Atticus latches on. The two form a wary alliance, and as their dependence upon each other grows, neither is quite sure he is making the right decision.


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Article: Copyright © 2014, Tribune Content Agency

'The Cold Lands' Movie Review & Movie Trailer