Bad Land: Road to Fury (2014)
“In a future without water vengeance will rain.”
Bad Lands: Road to Fury (2014)
Director: Jake Paltrow
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Shannon
Synopsis: Set in the future when water is hard to find, a teenage boy sets out to protect his family and survive.
Originally released in the States as Young Ones, Bad Land: Road to Fury underwent a name change for its DVD release in the UK in a cynical marketing ploy to cash-in on the media hype surrounding the release of Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite its being set in a dystopian society some unspecified time in the future, there is little similarity between the two movies, which leaves us wondering how the distributor thought they would benefit from marketing Bad Land: Road to Fury in the way that they did. Anyone dim or unobservant enough to buy or rent the movie believing they were getting a Mad Max style adventure movie would only be cheesed off at being conned, and would probably not be the demographic to appreciate Jake Paltrow’s slow-moving character study.
Paltrow’s vision of the future sees the United States suffering a decades-long drought which has seen green plains turned to parched desert, and those who have chosen not to move to the cities living lives pre-occupied with day-to-day survival. Society still functions to a degree, but those lucky enough to have a source of water on their land, no matter how meagre, find themselves forced to use sometimes fatal force to dissuade thieves. Reformed alcoholic Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon – The Iceman, Man of Steel), the father of two teenage children whose wife was paralysed in an accident when he was drunk at the wheel, is in such a position. He tries to be a generous neighbour, and has an unshakable conviction that, with proper irrigation, his land will be green once more. Ernest buys a robotic carrier at auction, outbidding young Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult – About a Boy, Warm Bodies) who is courting Holm’s daughter, Mary (Elle Fanning). When Ernest refuses to rent his new acquisition to Flem, the young man steals it and heads for the hills. Ernest pursues him on a chase that will ultimately prove to have fatal consequences…
Although each of the three main male characters has one act of the film devoted to them, the film devotes most of its attention to Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee – ParaNorman), Ernest’s gentle, artistic son. Unfortunately, he’s a somewhat withdrawn character, providing few dramatic cues, a problem that is exacerbated by Smit-McPhee’s understated performance. In fairness to the young actor, it appears that he’s delivering exactly the kind of performance director Jake Paltrow asked of him, but then so does Hoult, who provides us with a much more intriguing character. Flem commits foul deeds during the course of the film, but from an instinct to survive which the film suggests he is at times unable to govern. The guilt is always there, sometimes shoved deep down inside of him, but sometimes visible in his eyes. He’s both a product and a victim of his times, and Hoult embraces this enigma with a performance of subtly conveyed emotions which artfully capture the turbulence beneath a calm exterior.
Overall, though, Bad Lands: Road to Fury is too uneven to be considered a success. After an uncertain start, the film finds some traction in its second act – which not coincidentally revolves around Flem – before tailing off. Paltrow’s vision of the future is a unique one which harks back to the Old West while utilising modern technology to keep the firmly firmly entrenched in the bleak future, but his skill at writing characters is not so well-developed – particularly when it comes to female characters. Overall, though, an interesting watch.
(Reviewed 5th June 2015)