I’m a huge admirer of the filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and his wildly underrated effort from 2000, The Claim, is a hugely impressive piece of work that’s begging for reconsideration and an upgrade to the Blu-ray format Alwin Kuchler’s muscular and expansive 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography painted a forbidding canvass of mountain life circa 1867, with the intelligent and morally ambiguous screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (loosely based on the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy) borrowing shades from Altman’s masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Michael Nyman’s score is blustery when called for, and subtle most everywhere else, contributing greatly to the epic sweep of Kuchler’s full-bodied images. Winterbottom has always struck me as the British version of Steven Soderbergh, a restless talent interested in exploring every possible genre, refusing to be pigeonholed, always bursting with vitality and style and smarts. Peter Mullan is, as usual, fantastic as the strong willed ruler of Kingdom Come, the Northern California town that was crafted entirely for the film, only to be totally destroyed during the fiery final sequences (I’m spoiling nothing as this much his hinted at in the trailer). Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, and Nastassja Kinski are all excellent as the other main characters, all of whom cross paths with Mullan and get in the way of his perceived sense of happiness. This is narrative that hinges on jealousy, deceit, loyalty, love, business, and the ever burning quest that some people have to own and control all that they come into contact with. There are shades of Serena (an overall disappointment but not without its technical merits) and There Will Be Blood (one of the great films of the century) and other recent American period pictures detailing the harsh living conditions and the discovery of valuable resources (The Claim centers its dramatic action over the great California Gold Rush). The film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, and it truly looks it – The Claim feels cold, remote, challenging, and daunting. This is an obscenely undervalued piece of cinema that seems to have snuck by way too many people. I can remember seeing it in a mostly empty theater in Los Angeles and thinking to myself that I was secretly being treated to one of the best films of that particular year.