It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In the town of Kingdom Come, winter is more of a punishment than a season. High in a pass of the Sierra Nevada mountains, its buildings of raw lumber stand like scars on the snow. The promise of gold has drawn men here, but in the winter there is little to do but wait, drink and visit the brothel. The town is owned and run by Mr. Dillon, a trim Scotsman in his 40s who is judge, jury and (if necessary) executioner.
I dwell on the town because the physical setting of Michael Winterbottom's "The Claim" is central to its effect. Summer is a season for work, but winter is a time for memory and regret. Mr. Dillon (Peter Mullan) did something years ago that was wrong in a way a man cannot forgive himself for. He lives in an ornate Victorian house, submits to the caresses of his mistress, settles the affairs of his subjects and is haunted by his memories.
Two women arrive in Kingdom Come. One is a fading beauty named Elena (Nastassja Kinski), dying of tuberculosis. The other is her daughter, about 20, named Hope (Sarah Polley). They have not journeyed to Kingdom Come to forgive Mr. Dillon his trespasses. It becomes clear who they are, but the movie is not about that secret. It is about what happened 20 years ago, and what, as a result, will happen now.
To the town that winter also comes Donald Dalglish (Wes Bentley), a surveyor for the railroad. Where the tracks run, wealth follows. What they bypass will die. Dalglish is young, ambitious and good at business. He attracts the attention of Lucia (Milla Jovovich), who is not only Mr. Dillon's comfort but also the owner of the brothel. She kisses him boldly on the lips in full view of a saloon-full of witnesses, sending a message to Mr. Dillon: If he doesn't want keep her, others will. Dalglish is not indifferent, but he is more intrigued by the strange young blond woman Hope, who stands out in this grimness like the first bud of spring.