Land of Plenty (2004)
After living abroad, Lana returns to the United States, and finds that her uncle is a reclusive vagabond with psychic wounds from the Vietnam War.
It's a big task if a foreigner like German director Wim Wenders wants to explore the American Psyche after 9/11. But he does succeed. While it's obvious that Wenders is no fan of George W. Bush (and his political position will be somehow close to that of Lana and far away from that of uncle Paul) Wenders manages to treat both characters with respect and understanding, without condemnation. Wim Wenders has somehow fallen in love with the USA a long time ago - especially with the American West and I think he has understood a lot of how the American psyche is like and what damage 9/11 was for the US Society. The clash of the characters Lana and Paul is beautiful to watch, the acting is fine as well as the cinematography and the music. The Story unfolds less slowly than in other Wenders movies and although it's clearly a drama (and no other genre) it even has a little suspense as it's not clear what is really behind the terror plot that Paul is seeing. I liked seeing how Lana and Paul get to know each other, how they find a common ground in spite of all their differences and how Paul slowly begins to question his own worldview and attitude.What I liked in particular is that Wim Wenders seems to have a message for viewers on both sides of the political spectrum. As you might expect the movie has an anti was message (though not as strong as some might hope) and for people with a worldview similar to Uncle Paul's this movie might be an invitation to look at the world through the eyes of Lana and see another reality beyond anxiety and conspiracy. But Viewers from the left side might find their views challenged as well. Wenders has no message of the left winning an Argument over the right, he rather has a message of reconciliation. In the last minutes of the movie we hear some things that makes us see Paul's character in a more positive light and helps us to see how precious he is.The movie is 12 years old by now but having a look at the US at the time of the presidential race of Trump vs. Hillary I realize how it's message is just on time. Despite all the anxiety and mistrust shown in the movie - for everyone who thinks that bipartisanship and unity are things Americans should reach for this movie ultimately has a hopeful message.
There's a lot to be said for a film that makes profound statements about the 9/11 attacks and its effects on Vietnam vets. Most of us were probably too shocked inside our own little bubble to realize the impact these men felt when exploding planes collapsed the twin towers. But director Wim Wenders (DON'T COME KNOCKING) pulls it off thanks to a fairly good script and even better acting by lead actors John Diehl and Michelle Williams.Never having seen Diehl in a leading role, this movie shows he's got some serious chops and can act with the best Hollywood has to offer. Equally Michelle Williams pulls off a stunningly excellent performance as the worldly but loving niece who helps Diehl discover himself all over again.The story ...Paul (John Diehl) is a Vietnam vet living in Los Angeles. He lives in a fantasy world all his own, believing that he's helping with national security by tracking suspicious looking people with his surveillance tricked-out van. He operates a camera that comes out of the van's sunroof and records activity around town.Michelle (Michelle Williams, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) is returning from Tel Aviv after years away from the States. Her mother passed away and she's trying to hook up with her last surviving relative in America: Paul. Working at a mission for the poor, she befriends many of its patrons and meets up with a withdrawn Arab-looking gentleman named Hassan (Shaun Taub, CRASH) who also happens to be one of Paul's prime suspects.Paul witnesses Hassan hauling boxes of borax and quickly learns that it is an ingredient for certain bomb materials. On high alert, Paul records everything Hassan does. This brings him closer to his niece, Michelle. But Hassan lives on the street and is eventually shot to death right in front of Paul, making him believe that someone knocked him off for sinister reasons.Michelle is beset with grief about Hassan's death and searches for one of his family members. Eventually finding one near Death Valley, she convinces Paul to drive her and the body to Hassan's brother for burial. Paul agrees in the hopes of gaining more information about who Hassan was and what he was up to.As the nexus between Paul's old Vietnam life and the new one that awaits him with Michelle begins to culminate, we see him battling bad dreams of his time in Southeast Asia but being aided and comforted by Michelle and, to his surprise, by Hassan's death and Hassan's brother.We quickly learn that Paul went down a bad trail after the 9/11 attacks, his mind sparking up old memories in order to protect itself. He lives in his van, which is his life-connection to the world now. But that will change once Michelle teaches him how to trust again.The film is touching if sometimes a bit heavy-handed in the dialogue department. We're sometimes forcibly given rather trite information about the homeless and war, but this is easily overlooked thanks to the able acting of its two main characters.
LAND OF PLENTY is nowhere near as powerful a title for this brilliant Wim Wenders film as the original working title, ANGST AND ALIENATION IN America. This is another Wim Wenders wonder of film-making, a quiet little powerhouse of a movie that should be required viewing for all of us. Wenders wrote this moving piece with assistance from Scott Derrickson and Michael Meredith and directs a sterling cast in an exploration of the American psyche post 9/11, and few writer/directors could have keener insight into the state of mind of a country at odds with itself and the rest of the world.Lana (Michelle Williams) is flying back to the US after a two-year stay on the West Bank. She is the daughter of missionaries, having lived her life in Africa and other missionary fields and she is flying home after her mother's death to deliver a letter to her uncle Paul (John Diehl), a damaged Vietnam vet who has cut himself off from his family and the rest of life and in response to 9/11, his mind being obsessed with tracking Sleeper Cells to destroy terrorists in his own homemade surveillance van. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Lana is met by Henry (Wendell Pierce) who is a pastor who runs a mission for the homeless of Los Angeles and provides Lana with a bleak room and a job in the kitchen of the mission. Lana is full of praise for God for all things, the optimistic evangelical girl who fails to recognize evil. One member of the mission bunkhouse is a Pakistani Hassan (Shaun Toub) whose garments and fixation on boxes of Borax alerts Paul to his possible involvement as a terrorist.Lana contacts Paul, desires to connect with him, but Paul is aloof, obsessed with his 'mission' to ferret out terrorists. When Hassan is the victim of a drive-by shooting Lana is devastated at the loss of a human being while Paul is convinced Hassan was hit by a larger organization. Paul with his colleague Jimmy (Richard Edson) discover Hassan has a brother who lives in Trona (outside of Death Valley). Together Lana and Paul transport the corpse of Hassan to his brother Youssef (Bernard White) who lives in a hut in Trona: Lana is committed to doing the right thing, Paul sees an entry into more evidence for evil to quash. While Lana is warmly entertained by Youssef, Paul investigates the town and finds that the Borax boxes of Hassan's business were innocent means of washing carpets imported from Pakistan. The coming together of Youssef, Lana, and Paul finally achieves meaning when Paul reads the letter from his sister, Lana's mother, who somehow manages to erase all lines of prejudice, bigotry, religious differences, misunderstanding - finally giving breathing room to the damaged souls of the brotherhood of man the three represent.Wenders manages to bathe his story in the light of reality yet maintain an unprejudiced stance in moving his characters through their paths of revelation. The camera wanders a bit, the music blends perhaps too heavily, and the pieces of the puzzle don't always fit together - much like life doesn't always fall into place the way we expect. But there is much to learn from Wenders' wisdom and with the aid of perfect performances from Michelle Williams, John Diehl, and Wendell Pierce he has created an indelible work. A fine film for us all to ponder. Grady Harp
A must-see for anyone who is either a Wim Wenders fan or a person interested in the fears and hopes of contemporary America. German director in a brilliant way makes us ponder upon all the issues so essential to understanding American reality after 9/11. Ethnic prejudices, stereotypes, homelessness,terrorism, Vietnam war, pursuit for an identity, search for lost relatives - all these components are omnipresent, smoothly woven. Wenders mastery reveals in the fact that he manages to touch upon serious topics and in the same time introduce elements of humor and even grotesque. "Land of plenty" leaves us with the voice of Leonard Cohen and plenty of thoughts about relation between individual and contemporary world.