Reviewer: Zep the Bear
The Land (2016)
The Land is a remarkable achievement. It is a teen drama, a seminar about the plight of an entire generation of directionless kids, and a love letter to a damaged but determined city.
Ostensibly about a group of struggling teenage skateboarders who inadvertently get ensnared in the illegal drug culture of Cleveland, Ohio, Steven Caple Jr.’s The Land is about loss, struggle, and aspirations.
The film follows four friends who are disenchanted with school. Their current family situations are bleak. Their futures look to be bleaker. The little joy they have in their lives comes from hanging out and skateboarding.
The group, headed by “Cisco” (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) commit carjackings to bring money into their respective homes. Unsatisfied with the meager earnings they receive from their efforts, they are advised to “steal better cars” to earn more money. So they do. This is where things become sticky. While tossing a car before selling it off, the boys discover a bag of illegal pills (MDMA/”Ecstacy”/”Molly”) in the trunk of the vehicle. They keep the pills and take them home.
The one bright spot in the boys’ lives is skateboarding. They see it not only as a liberating means of escape from the drudgery of daily life but also as a legitimate way of earning money and making a future for themselves. If they can compete in competitions and win, they can earn prize money and sponsorships. However, the contests require a steep entry fee which they do not have. Then they remember the pills. They begin to sell them and enjoy the spoils of wealth.
However, local drug dealer “Momma” (Linda Edmond) wants the missing pills back and sends her people to find them. It only gets messy from there.
Caple both wrote and directed the film. The plot is reminiscent of last summer’s Dope. However, the tone of The Land is grittier. Caple paints a familiar world. He expertly conveys the claustrophobic panic of being caught in a bad situation that spirals terrifyingly out of control.
The casting of the film is impeccable. Lendeborg shines as Cisco. Moises Arias delivers a charming performance as “Junior.” Linda Edmond is utterly chilling as Momma. She seamlessly shifts between matronly warmth and bone-chilling menace in seconds. I was pleased to see Michael K. Williams, notably of The Wire, playing the father of one of the boys. He is an incredibly talented actor. Cleveland’s own MGK (Colson Baker) is memorable in a brief role as a convenience store clerk.
I’d like to take a moment to recognize the director of photography, Steven Holleran. He shot a helluva movie. He found beauty in the broken streets of Cleveland. He married a documentary feel with a cinematic scope. He is very talented.
Oh, and the soundtrack is hot. “Dopeman” by MGK and “Figure It Out” featuring French Montana, Kanye West, and NAS are straight bangers.
The Land is an honest and beautiful film. It doesn’t take any shortcuts. It shows how the wonder of youth can be splattered and stunted by the dark reality of poverty and hopelessness in the big city.
Caple kept the film on course to the bitter end. I’m sure it was tempting to conclude things in a different manner but that’s not life, is it?
I left the screening I attended sad but inspired. That’s not an easy feat. Steven Caple Jr. is a talent young director with an incredibly bright future. He did his city proud.