Review: The Unknown Country

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Title: The Unknown Country
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Marissa Maltz
Starring: Lily Gladstone, Raymond Lee, Richard Ray Whitman
Runtime: 1 hour 24 minutes

What it is:  A young woman named Tana goes on a journey of self-discovery across America after the death of her Grandmother. On this journey, she connects with the various people she meets on her way, gets back in touch with relatives, and begins healing from the pain of losing someone so important to her.

What We Think: This one might be hard to rank if I’m being sincere. This film, I feel, I have seen before, and I’m not sure if this very plot has become an indie movie staple by this point. A young person goes on a journey of self-discovery after losing an important family member and wanders cross country, running into people who influence them and help them come to terms with the loss. This plot was not only the plot of this film but also of the film I reviewed: The Pilgrim. In a lot of ways, I’d even say it’s comparable even down to the Midwest setting and the main character phasing in and out of contact with various other characters as they traverse the American West. 

One point where this film differs comes when you look at the cast list and realize, that most of the characters aren’t quite characters but actual people. Actual people who get moments to shine throughout the film. In a strange way, this film is both drama and documentary, and not in the way Sanson and Me was. (Thankfully) Due to this, however, it does fall into a very strange area. This movie is a movie about people. It does touch on the subject of grief, but I would daresay that this movie is much more an exploration of the various characters in real life that we come across and how they influence us. The movie has small, very documentary-like segments where the various unique personalities just talk about their lives and we see small snippets of them in their natural environments. This film is very human in this way.

Lily Gladstone is excellent as Tana. With her in the lead role and with the context of knowing the story of this film was conceived by her, you can tell this movie is deeply personal. She conveys subtleties and nuance in her performance and it’s a very raw and honest performance. The soundtrack by Alexis Marsh, Sam Jones, and Neil Halstead was top notch and I immensely enjoyed the cinematography of Andrew Hajek.

Now for the cons. As I said, I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. While that is not a cardinal sin and I appreciate the personal nature of the piece, it also seems to becoming a trend with indie films to have a plot like this. I find this frustrating. There is nothing inherently wrong with this film. The pacing is a little slow. It’s not quite hypnotic, more a slow crawl, and with it being similar to other movies I’ve seen, I felt like I could almost predict where things were more or less going at times and found myself waiting to reach those points. (I saw the ending coming a mile away) At times, the monologues of the various real-life people throughout the film felt slightly out of place and disjointed, some not quite feeling like they connected to the theme of grief or the main storyline. I see this more as a bold artistic choice that didn’t always work towards the desired effect rather than anything too damning, however. All in all, it was an inoffensive movie that was clearly personal, but at the same time lacked a level of originality that I would have liked to have seen. 

Our Grade: C+, I think if it weren’t for how clearly personal and close to the heart this film was made, it would’ve gotten a lower grade from me. I feel a little frustrated grading it because I see the gems of something quite good there, but it wasn’t enough for me to enjoy this watch. Perhaps this film wasn’t for me personally, but I do feel like others would appreciate it more.

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