BADLAND (Francesco Lucente, 2007)

I do not much care for Billy Elliot (Stephen Daldrey, 2001), but I have revisited it for the sake of the marvelous acting of Jamie Bell and Julie Walters; the next time, however, I am going to pay closer attention to Jamie Draven, who plays Billy’s older brother. I have just seen Draven give a terrific performance as a Marine back home from Fallujah, now disgraced and almost unhinged as a result of his participation in a My Lai-type massacre, in Canadian writer-director Francesco Lucente’s Badland. Alas, the U.S. and German co-production has nothing else to commend it—except that it is a compulsively watchable thing, however mawkish, melodramatic and dreadfully scored. Draven plays Jerry Rice, who cannot bring himself to murder his young daughter, Celina, after after he has dispatched her mother and two brothers in a fit of rage. Celina, who prevents Jerry from killing himself, will eventually prove the instrument of Jerry’s redemption; for now, together they are on the lam.
     Perhaps the weakest aspect of the film is ten-year-old Celina, both in the way she has been conceived as a character and in Grace Fulton’s ridiculous and annoying performance as she relentlessly prays to God to bring back her lost family. How odd; there is a stretch of time between her daddy’s family shootings and her fervid prayers when Celina, busy doting on her father, doesn’t seem at all to mind the absence of her siblings and Mommy.
     There have been too many recent back-from-the-Iraq War films for me to have seen them all, or even want to, but surely the jewel among them is Jon Jost’s Over Here (2007), as hard as it may be to find.

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