Land of Plenty

Land of Plenty

I just don’t think Land of Plenty ever fully comes together. What I’m struck by as much as anything is that for a two hour movie with only two main characters and a handful of peripheral ones, I don’t feel like I got to know the main characters very well. They just aren’t developed in a clear and believable way that provides a lot of insight into them.

The female lead is college age and has been living abroad for half or more of her life, trailing along with her idealistic missionary parents to work with Africans and with Palestinians in lands occupied by Israel. Now she has returned to America, partly to work in a soup kitchen in a rundown part of Los Angeles, and partly to try to connect with her uncle, who has been estranged from the family.

The uncle is a Vietnam vet who travels around in a surveillance van working undercover, just randomly observing people—especially anyone who looks Arab—looking for clues of possible terrorist activity.

It becomes apparent almost immediately that he’s delusional, that he’s not working for any kind of government agency, that his constant updates of his activities are not being radioed to anyone but are just a kind of audio diary he’s keeping. He’s a paranoid lone nut driving around all day listening to right wing hate radio, convinced he’s doing his part to keep America safe from its enemies.

I’m not real sure how we’re supposed to react to him. In some ways he seems a comic figure, but his is not the kind of ludicrousness I feel too comfortable laughing at, since one would be laughing at the mentally ill after all. Plus, while his enemies might not be real, his guns are, so you’re never entirely sure just what his delusions will lead him to do. His goofy playacting that he’s some kind of special forces operative could turn deadly serious at any time.

It’s also not clear to what degree the people who interact with him understand that he’s nuts. He has a kind of “assistant” who doesn’t accompany him when he drives around, but who is given various research assignments and such. Is he caught up in the same delusions, or is he playing along to humor the vet for whatever reason?

I don’t know if the niece herself gets that all his stuff is made up, though I’m confident that at the very least she thinks it’s exaggerated or partly delusional. When he asks her point blank if she thinks he’s crazy, she says “No. But I’d still love you if you were.” (Which means yes.)

Anyway, so the niece and her uncle do get together. A man is shot outside the soup kitchen, and they sort of investigate it together. That is, she seeks to find the person’s family so the body can be returned to them for burial, and he drives around looking for clues that the shooting is linked to the dead man’s connections to a terrorist ring.

He shows signs here and there—that become more pronounced late in the movie—of knowing that he’s not right in the head. At one point he laments how difficult it is to sustain what he’s doing, which would seem to indicate that this illusory world he’s constructed is therapeutic for him in giving some purpose to his life, but that he has to semi-intentionally block reality out of his mind to keep that going, like he’s scared of what will happen if he lets himself be too sane.

That’s an interesting little angle, but really it’s too little, too late. There’s just not enough about this movie that drew me in for me to be able to recommend it.

The ending—the way one kind of adjusts to the other’s worldview—is a promising idea I suppose, but it doesn’t play out in a way I found believable. There’s too much of a gap between them for that to happen, at least the way it’s depicted doing so. I have to think there would be more conflict and less eventual reconciliation between characters like this in real life.

It’s not a complete waste of time, but Land of Plenty fails more than it succeeds.

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