Bad Land: Road to Fury (2014) | Jake Paltrow’s lo-fi sci-fi Western drama deserves better respect
In a future America, where water is under strict government control, farmer Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) prays for rain.
A failure in the eyes of his children Mary (Elle Fanning) and Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and looked down on as the local drunk responsible for his wife’s crippling accident, Ernest is reduced to delivering rations to the work gangs working on a new water supply that will be re-routed away from his farm. But getting involved with the enigmatic Flem (Nicholas Hoult) causes more further heartache for his young family…
It’s a bit of a cheat calling this a post-apocalyptic sci-fi and giving it a title to cash in Mad Max: Fury Road (which, incidentally, also stars Nicholas Hoult), as director Jake Paltrow (younger brother of Gwyneth) has crafted an engaging retro rural thriller, with broad brushstrokes of a contemporary Western and an emotional coming-of-age drama, that feels more like it could have been set in the 1950s rather than in the 2050’s. It’s also got a ‘revenge is best served cold’ story set in an arid desert landscape that could so easily have been set in the Australian Outback, even without the film’s one trick pony sci-fi elements.
The original title of this 2014 South African/Irish co-production, and Paltrow’s second feature as director, was Young Ones. While that title conjures up all sorts of other images (like Cliff and a certain TV show), it does make for a better fit, as the film’s narrative is driven by the three young leads: Hoult, Fanning and, most importantly, Smit-McPhee, whose wide-eyed Jerome is forced to man-up when his father meets with a fatal ‘accident’. It’s role not to dissimilar to Smit-McPhee’s Alexander in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
At first Jerome blames his dad’s death on a Simulat Shadow, a robotic mule (and the film’s only sci-fi element), and reluctantly accepts Flem taking charge of the farm and his sister’s affections. But the surprise return of the Simulat, which Flem had supposedly sold to save the farm, makes Jerome suspect something sinister is afoot…
I’m not giving anything away by revealing that Hoult’s Flem is responsible for the dad’s death, but what makes his character so enthralling is the internal logic that he uses to justify his murderous actions. It’s what makes Paltrow’s drama so engaging, and the scene where Jerome learns the truth behind his father’s grisly death is heartbreaking. Another alternative title for the film could be Young Love, as Sonny James’ 1956 chart-topper features – as does the country twang of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. As sci-fi this is a miss, but as a retro rural drama in the John Steinbeck mould, it’s worth a look.
‘Failures give the most advice’ (Mary)
‘Grieving is just a lazy persons way of making sense of chaos’ (Flem)
Bad Land: Road to Fury is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD in the UK from Signature
Posted on May 13, 2015, in Might See, Might See, Might-See, Sci-Fi, Thriller and tagged Bad Land: Road to Fury, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Elle Fanning, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road, Michael Shannon, Might See, Nicholas Hoult, Sci-Fi, Sonny James, Thriller, Young Love, Young Ones. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.