Director: Jake Paltrow Starring: Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult & Kodi Smit-McPhee Synopsis: Set in the future when water is hard to find, a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive Rating: 15 Run time: 100 minutes Release date: 1 May (Theatrical) 4 May (DVD)
Bad Land: Road to Fury sounds like a tie-in/rip-off of this summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and was likely the victim of a title change to fool would be buyers into thinking this was some sort of prequel. Even though the film is set in a post apocalyptic wasteland and stars Nicholas Hoult, the similarities would seem to end there. Bad Land: Road to Fury is more of a science-fiction Western than an all out action fest, and in true Western style, it is very much a slow burner.
The original title for Bad Land: Road to Fury was Young Ones, when in fact something like Middle of the Road may have been a more honest title. Bad Land sits firmly in-between being a good film and a bad film, and has little to distinguish it as anymore than average. The story of farmer Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) who refuses to leave his barren farmland in spite of worldwide drought, and his attempts to bring up his two children Mary and Jerome; Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee, is served to the audience through three chapters yet never really clicks into gear.
Michael Shannon’s intense stare is prominent here, yet it seems as if he is never asked to do much more than this. His character is clearly pained, and his eyes tell the story of a man burdened by the world, yet we never really get to explore his character, or what drives him forward. His farm is barren, while his daughter detests their way of life, while his son remains loyal and the towns people regularly seek him for favours. Yet, we know little of him, and he remains a mystery when surely his character would be better explored a little more.
While Shannon is wasted, so too is Elle Fanning as Ernest’s daughter. She suffers the most here, as her character does little more than wash the dishes, cry and scream occasionally. It seems a waste of her talent, as she is left to pine for Nicholas Hoult’s bad boy, while being nothing more than a plot device used later in the film. Her brother, played by Smit-McPhee, gets the closest thing to a story arc as he must contest with his father and the politics of being too young in this dystopian future.
Nicholas Hoult is perhaps the nearest we have to a bad guy in the film. His Flem Lever bears a grudge against Shannon’s Ernest, and feels he is holding onto land that really belongs to him. At times we get hints of what Hoult can do, and at times he does shine, yet in other moments he appears to be on auto-pilot and never really engages the audience as he might do otherwise.
It’s a problem throughout the film. As director Jake Paltrow (younger brother of Gwyneth) seems to have many good ideas, but fails to execute them in all in a fulfilling manner. He has a good eye, and many of the shots throughout the film convince you of the tough nature that a worldwide drought could bring. While the robotic mules auctioned off as cattle are unique in their appearance, and the use of a frightening looking harness giving Ernest’s wife the ability to walk is striking. It’s just shame that the more interesting parts of the film feel massively underdeveloped.
In summary: Bad Land: Road to Fury is not all that bad, yet neither is it all that good. Michael Shannon does solid work, while director Paltrow shows promise, even if he doesn’t deliver on the more interesting aspects of the film.